Stephen Sondheim, American musical legend and lyricist of West Side Story, died on Friday at the age of 91, a spokesperson said. His lawyer, F. Richard Pappas, had announced to the New York Times that Stephen Sondheim had suddenly passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, after celebrating Thanksgiving with his friends the day before.
Trained at a young age by the great master of the musical Oscar Hammerstein (Show Boat, The melody of happiness), Stephen Sondheim was hired at only 25 years old to write the lyrics of the now legendary West Side Story, her first Broadway show, later adapted for the screen.
A multi-rewarded man
Born on March 22, 1930 in New York City, he was considered one of the greatest composers of the musical and was seen as an intellectual of the genre, as he preferred art theater to the entertainment so prevalent on Broadway. He had notably worked on Sweeney todd, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music, as a composer or lyricist.
During his long career, this Broadway giant has won eight Grammy Awards, as many Tony Awards, an Oscar, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. Stephen Sondheim, whose parents worked in fashion, had a passion for musical theater from an early age. After working on television or writing crosswords for New York Magazine, it’s thanks to West Side Story let him attain glory.
“Stephen reinvented the American musical”
In 2015, Barack Obama, then President of the United States, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. “To put it simply, Stephen has reinvented the American musical,” Barack Obama said. “His music is so beautiful, his words so precise, that even when he exposes the imperfections of everyday life, he transcends them”.
“Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 and had time to write such wonderful music and great lyrics! May he rest in peace, ”greeted Barbra Streisand, icon of the song, tweeting a photo of the two of them.
Actress and singer Anna Kendrick lamented a “terrible loss”. “A few days ago I was telling someone how fun (and really difficult) it is to sing Stephen Sondheim. Interpreting his works has been one of the greatest privileges of my career, ”she reacted on Twitter.
Actor Hugh Jackman, for his part, expressed his gratitude to the lyricist. “Every once in a while a person comes in to fundamentally change an entire art genre. Stephen Sondheim was one of them. As millions of people mourn his passing, I also want to express my gratitude for all that he has given to me and to so many others, ”he wrote.
Plays still performed on Broadway
Despite the worldwide success of Stephen Sondheim, it was not until 2010 that his musicals enjoyed the honors of the Parisian stage, with A Little Night Music at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Before that, only a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum had been shown at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1965, without much echo.
Proof of the longevity of his works, two of his pieces, Company, created in 1970, and Assassins, which dates from 1990, were performed on Broadway this fall. Days before his death, the respected artist had said in an interview with New York Times to have been “lucky”, delighted to see his shows performed over and over again.
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Stephen Sondheim, “West Side Story” lyricist, is dead