- BBC News World
The mythical American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died at his home in Connecticut at the age of 91.
From “Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins” to the fairy tale “Into the Woods,” his musicals possessed a boldness, complexity, and linguistic prowess that few of his peers could match.
Born in New York in March 1930, Sondheim saw his first Broadway musical at the age of 9.
His big break came in the 1950s when he was asked to write the lyrics for the musical “West Side Story”, a contemporary version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare.
“West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957 and over 700 performances were held. The 1961 film version won 10 Oscars.
Despite the success, Sondheim was not satisfied with his contribution to the musical, going so far as to describe its lyrics as “shameful”.
“It’s very difficult for me to listen to some of those songs,” he told ABC News in 2010.
“Bernstein wanted the songs to be heavy, what he called ‘poetic,’ and my idea of poetry and his idea of poetry were polar opposites.”
Sondheim was most successful as a lyricist with the 1959 musical “Gypsy,” about stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her domineering mother, Rose.
This was followed in 1962 by “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” an adaptation of the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, for which he wrote both music and lyrics.
It won a Tony for best musical and was later taken to the movies.
Sondheim’s subsequent shows – 1964’s “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Do I Hear A Waltz?” The following year – were not hits.
Neither was a reunion with Bernstein and West Side Story director Jerome Robbins on a project that was eventually abandoned.
“Company” (1970) starred a single New Yorker named Bobby, whose married friends teach him the value of commitment.
The original production was nominated for 14 Tonys and won 6, with Sondheim receiving one for its music and lyrics.
The composer’s golden decade ended with “Sweeney Todd” (1979), a bold, baroque and very bloody tale of the dire adventures of a cutthroat barber.
In “Into the Woods” (1987) he combined characters from the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood.
And in “Assassins” (1990) he used a similar concept, combining John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and others in a dark meditation on the assassination attempts of American presidents.
The following year, Sondheim won an Oscar for a song he composed for the film “Dick Tracy.”
In 2010, the year he turned 80, a Broadway theater was renamed Sondheim in his honor.
She is survived by her husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, who is nearly 50 years her junior and whom she married in 2017.
“You have to work on something that makes you feel insecure, something that makes you doubt yourself,” Sondheim said in 2017.
“If you know where you are going, you are gone, as the poet says. And that is death.”
You can now receive notifications from BBC News World. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.