- By KEN WERTHER
When legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died suddenly on November 26, it sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, centered on Broadway of course. I’ve been reading one tribute after another and even though I already knew, I have been overwhelmed by the depth of the man’s talents and accomplishments. Between the years of 1954 (when he was 24 years old) and 2008, he wrote music and lyrics for 18 Broadway musicals. Many, beginning with West Side Story in 1957 and Gypsy in 1959, are true classics (a superlative too often used quite freely), such as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and Passion. He won eight Tony Awards (including Lifetime Achievement), an Oscar, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015. Arguably the most important figure in 20th century musical theatre, he was praised for “reinventing the American musical with shows that tackle unexpected themes that range far beyond the genre’s traditional subjects.” His shows very often address darker, more harrowing elements of the human experience, with music and lyrics of unprecedented complexity and sophistication. He wrote books, plays, poetry, and created crossword puzzles. He leaves behind a legacy unlike any other. He was 91.
Rest well, Mr. Sondheim.