Born: 22 March 1930
Birthplace: New York, New York
Best known as: West Side Story lyricist and superstar Broadway composer
Stephen Sondheim wrote music or lyrics for West Side Story, Company, A Little Night Music and nearly a dozen other hit Broadway musicals of the late 20th century. His break came in the early 1940's when he and his divorced mother moved from New York City to rural Doylestown, Pa. They lived near the summer residence of Oscar Hammerstein II, who became the boy's mentor and taught him the craft of composing musical plays. Sondheim wrote lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's music for the huge hit West Side Story (1957). He went on to compose music, lyrics or both for hits of his own, including Gypsy (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984) and Into the Woods (1987). His theatrical influence lay not only in his skill as a composer but also in his innovative story-telling and musical styles and unexpected subject matter. Examples include controversial discussions of relationships through non-linear vignettes in Company, the blending of contemporary theater with classical Japanese poetry and music in Pacific Overtures (1976), and Sweeney Todd's operatic, dark portrayal of 19th-century England.
Extra credit: Sondheim majored in music at Williams College in Massachusetts and studied composition at Princeton University... A Little Night Music (1973) included his first commercial hit song, "Send in the Clowns"... Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), a hit in London, New York and regional theaters, is a narrated revue of songs with Sondheim's lyrics and other composers' music... His Broadway work repeatedly won Tony, Drama Desk, and New York Drama Critic Circle awards for best musical, best music and best lyrics... He composed scores or songs for the films Stavisky (1974), Reds (1981) and Dick Tracy (1990). The latter won an Academy Award for best song, "Sooner or Later."
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