West Side Story And Sweeney Todd Lyricist Stephen Sondheim Is Dead At 91

Stephen Sondheim as a guest on a talk show
(Image credit: CBS)

If you’re a fan of musicals, you’ve been somehow touched by Stephen Sondheim. He was the lyricist behind West Side Storys enchanting songs like “Maria” and “Tonight.” Sondheim provided the music and words to Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods along with so many favorite Broadway shows like A Little Night Music, Company and Follies. So, our hearts grow heavy with the sound of his music as we report that Sondheim has died at the age of 91. 

The musical theatre legend passed away early on Friday in his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. Per NBC News, the cause of his death is unknown. The Broadway community and world has lost one of the greatest musical geniuses all time, and the composer with the most Tony Awards to date and a Pulitzer Prize winner. 

By the age of 27, Stephen Sondheim’s first show, West Side Story on Broadway, in the late ‘50s. Sondheim wrote the words to the songs set to be heard again in the upcoming Steven Spielberg remake against Leonard Bernstein’s compositions. For the next 60 years, Sondheim made a number of contemporary and beloved musicals. 

His work spanned all types of stories and subjects. Sondheim wrote about a murderous barber in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which later became a movie starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen in 2007. He wrote Sunday in the Park With George, about French post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat. Sondheim delved deeply into relationships in Company, 19th century Japan in Pacific Overtures and twisted the fairy tales we knew for Into the Woods, which was adapted by Disney in 2014

Stephen Sondheim also won an Oscar for the original songs he wrote for 1990’s Dick Tracy, he won eight Grammys and eight Tony Awards. He has been credited with reinventing the American musical and taking their themes to much deeper places than other works of its kind. 

Sondheim was born in a Jewish family in New York City and when he was ten years old formed a friendship with Sound of Music and South Pacific playwright Oscar Hammerstein’s son James. Hammerstein became like his own father amidst an otherwise abusive upbringing. Growing up alongside Hammerstein greatly influenced Sondheim’s talents. 

Later in his career, Sondheim sought to mentor playwrights after him, which included Rent’s Jonathan Larson. Oddly enough, the recent adaptation of Larson’s work Tick, Tick… Boom! features Bradley Whitford portraying Stephen Sondheim and illustrates how supportive he was to Larson early on in his career. In 2008, long before Hamilton, Stephen Sondheim approached Lin-Manuel Miranda about translating West Side Story to Spanish for a 2009 Broadway revival. 

Stephen Sondheim touched so many lives with his work in musicals that will continue to be performed and watched for years to come and influence more people. Sondheim was married to Jeff Rowley since 2017, who he shared two French poodles with. We send our deep condolences to the family, friends, fans and colleagues of Sondheim. Though he is no longer with us, his legacy will live on through his prolific work. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

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