Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim is an American music composer and arguably one of the best lyricists of all time. Having a spectacular sixty-year long career, Sondheim worked together and learned from such great personalities like Oscar Hammerstein II, Hal Prince and James Lapine, collectively making some of the most popular musicals, songs and cast recordings. Sondheim’s interest in theater grew from a Broadway musical called Very Warm for May, written by his mentor and work partner, Oscar Hammerstein II. This was what set in motion a series of works that are rampant with popularity to this day in theater.

Sondheim passion for musical composition and theater drew out a number of low-profile releases in his college days, where he would collaborate with various known lyricists and writers and make some of his most early works. However, the 1940s are often referred to as the ‘learning years’ for Sondheim. This promises some credibility, as it was only until 1957 when Sondheim, aged 17, achieved widespread recognition. Approached by Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim, in due consultation with Hammerstein, made a very wise decision of working on lyrics for Bernstein’s musical. In 1957, West Side Story made it’s theater debut, with a total of 732 performances and re-runs. Despite, Sondheim’s claim of being dissatisfied with the overall project, he was now being recognized as a lyrical virtuoso. Not long after, Sondheim worked on another hit musical, Gypsy, which was released in 1959. Having established a strong reputation for himself in the late 1950s, the teenager was now to embark upon some fruitful collaborations in the years to come. In 1962, Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics for the celebrated musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, another venture that proved resourceful for a composer who had just turned 22.

However, soon after the death of his mentor Oscar Hammerstein in 1960, Sondheim seemed to have hit rock bottom, as far as his music popularity went. For the better part of the 1960s, Sondheim lost his skill with writing lyrics and produced some mediocre musicals like Anyone Can Whistle (1964), Do I Hear a Waltz (1965), while also making a failed television series, Evening Primrose (1966). The great lyricist, however, was to re-enter the Broadway spotlight with some awe-inspiring productions in the start of the 1970s. By this time, he had met Hal Prince, together with whom he worked on musicals and series such as Company (1970), Follies (1971) and A Little Night Music (1973). Most of the musicals of this time incorporated a different approach to music-making, focusing now more on Hammerstein’s style and blending in a number of interesting subjects. In the 1980s, Sondheim found another partner sharing some of his musical interests, and went on to produce Broadway successes such as Sunday in the Park with George(1984), Into the Woods(1987)and a 1990sclassic Passion. A later success for Sondheim was his 1990 project, Assassins, which managed to attain 73 rounds of performances before closing.

Apart from Broadway works, Sondheim has also shown interest in making music for films and video games. He worked on the 1973 classic film, The Last of Sheila, and is also credited to have written lyrics for songs in 1990 Warren Beatty movie called Dick Tracy, one of which was sung by Madonna. Having penetrated every possible realm of theater and revolutionizing it with spectacular vision, style and charisma, Stephen Sondheim is truly a music-making legend in modern times.


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