West Side Story. Follies. Sweeny Todd. Into the Woods.
Just four musicals created by the legend Stephen Sondheim, who has sadly passed away at the age of 91 years, as confirmed by his friend and lawyer, F. Richard Pappas.
The musical genius was born in New York City on March 22nd 1930, Sondheim’s love of theatre goes back to Very Warm for May, a show which he saw at the age of 9.
Sondheim would eventually find himself under the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II, of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, after being introduced by the latter’s son. Their relationship would help Sondheim grow the musical talents that would eventually lead him to create Saturday Night in 1954.
Unfortunately, Saturday Night would not go forward as planned due to the death of a key producer, but Sondheim eventually found success with his second musical venture, West Side Story, a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet which featured world-famous songs such as “I Feel Pretty” and “America”.
West Side Story became a cultural hit and earned 2 of its 6 Tony Award nominations. A film version starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno was released in 1961.
Sondheim continued to dominate the world of musical theatre with Tony Award-winning hits like Company, A Little Night Music, and Passion. In the process, Sondheim would bag himself 8 Tony Awards out of 18 nominations.
Disney and Sondheim eventually crossed paths in 1990, when he wrote the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” for Dick Tracy, which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The two worlds would come together once again, this time in the form of a film adaptation of Sondheim’s famous Broadway musical, Into the Woods.
Intertwining several stories from the Brothers Grimm, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim creates an entirely new fairytale about two bakers who want a child so bad that they venture into the woods to find four objects at the behest of the witch next door.
After years of development troubles, Disney eventually released the Rob Marshall-directed movie in 2014, starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, and Billy Magnussen. Sondheim worked alongside the music producers of the film, even going as far as writing “She’ll Be Back,” an original song for Streep that wound up on the cutting room floor.
While Sondheim hasn’t produced a show since 2008’s Road Show, he was developing a new musical called Square One, which we don’t know too much about at the time of writing.
This November, Sondheim was a featured character in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of tick, tick… Boom! in which Sondheim cameos as himself via a voice message, while Bradley Whitford portrays him onscreen.
Two new film adaptations of Sondheim are on the way with Steven Speilberg’s West Side Story, to be released by Disney on December 10th, and Richard Linklater’s Merrily We Roll Along which will be filmed over 20 years so that the actors (Blake Jenner, Beanie Feldstein, and Ben Platt) can age in real-time.
Stephen Sondheim may be gone, but he is survived by his husband Jeff Romley and his tremendous legacy of work which spans more than sixty years. We at The Disinsider send our love and support to his friends and family.