Stephen Sondheim, the songwriter who transformed American musical theatre in the second half of the twentieth century with his bright, beautifully rhymed lyrics, evocative melodies, and willingness to explore unusual ideas, has passed away. He was 91 years old at the time.
Sondheim’s death was reported by Rick Miramontez, president of DKC/O&M. Rick Pappas, Sondheim’s Texas-based attorney, informed The New York Times that the composer died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Conn.
Sondheim influenced numerous generations of theatrical songwriters, most notably with his landmark musicals Company, Follies, and Sweeney Todd, all of which are regarded as among his best. His most famous ballad, Send in the Clowns, has been recorded hundreds of times, most famously by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.
The artist avoided to repeat himself, deriving inspiration for his performances from a wide range of sources, including Ingmar Bergman’s film A Little Night Music, Japan’s opening to the West (Pacific Overtures), and French literature.
He got the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Sondheim’s music and lyrics provide a dark and serious tone to his performances, whereas before him, the primary tone of the show was dazzling and amusing. Sondheim is frequently chastised for writing inhuman tunes, a label he enjoys.
Sondheim’s flare and genius have made it a legend among theatregoers. He has a Broadway playhouse named after him. A New York magazine cover posed the question, “Is it God Sondheim?” “Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre?” wondered The Guardian. In his debut book of Collected Lyrics, he offered three basic rules for a musician: As simple as it is beautiful, substance drives form, and God is in the details.
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