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Summary Article: Sondheim, Stephen Joshua
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


♦ US composer and lyricist

Born in New York City, he saw little of his wealthy parents but was taken under the wing of Oscar Hammerstein II, who taught him to write lyrics. He wrote incidental music for Girls of Summer (1956) before providing the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957). The first show for which he (somewhat unusually) wrote both the music and the lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Later shows include Company (1970), about married life in New York, Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), which yielded the standard "Send In The Clowns", and Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), all of which won Tony awards. Sunday in the Park with George (1984) won the Pulitzer Prize. His 1990 piece Assassins had its Broadway debut delayed by the 2001 World Trade Centre bombings, but in 2004 won a further five Tonys. His next musical Road Show (formerly Bounce) opened in 2008, after much reworking. His complex and eclectic musicals are regarded as classics of the genre, the more extraordinary for having been produced in an era when the US musical is generally seen as being in decline. In 2008 he received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

  • Secrest, Meryle, Stephen Sondheim: A Life (1998); Swayne, Steve, How Sondheim Found His Sound (2007).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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