1930-03-22

STEPHEN SONDHEIM is an American composer and lyricist known for more than a half-century of contributions to musical theatre. He was born on this date. Mentored by none other than Oscar Hammerstein who he met as a ten-year old boy, he has done nothing less than reinvent the American Broadway musical.

Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer, including a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre), eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award, and a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been described by Frank Rich of the New York Times as “now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater.”

His best-known works as composer and lyricist include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and Passion. He also happened to have written the lyrics for West Side Story (when he was 27) and Gypsy (at age 29).

Sondheim has also written film music, contributing “Goodbye for Now” to Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds. He wrote five songs for 1990’s Dick Tracy, including “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” by Madonna, which won the Academy Award for Best Song.

In February 2012 it was announced that Sondheim would collaborate on a new musical with David Ives, and he had “about 20–30 minutes of the musical completed”.The show, tentatively called All Together Now, was assumed to follow the format of Merrily We Roll Along. Sondheim described the project as “two people and what goes into their relationship … We’ll write for a couple of months, then have a workshop. It seemed experimental and fresh 20 years ago. I have a feeling it may not be experimental and fresh any more”. 

In October 2014, it was confirmed the Sondheim and Ives’ musical would be based on two Luis Bunuel films (The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and will open (in previews) at the Public Theater in March 2017, under the working title Bunuel. Obviously that date is upon is. Stay tuned. March isn‘t over yet.

The composer was president of the Dramatists Guild from 1973 to 1981. To celebrate his 80th birthday, the former Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on September 15, 2010, and the BBC Proms held a concert in his honor. Cameron Mackintosh has called Sondheim “possibly the greatest lyricist ever.