Who is Stephen Sondheim?

Stephen Sondheim is a lyricist and composer from the United States. He was born on March 22, 1930, in New York City, and studied piano as a child. However, it was his reaction to seeing a Broadway musical when he was nine years old that sparked his interest in theater. His parents divorced the same year, and he moved to Pennsylvania, where he met Jimmy Hammerstein, whose father was Oscar Hammerstein II, the lyricist and playwright.

Sondheim honed his skills in musical composition under Hammerstein’s tutelage, producing four musicals that met Hammerstein’s criteria. He was able to study composition with composer Milton Babbitt thanks to a Williams College scholarship.

Sondheim returned to musical theater as the composer and lyricist for Saturday Night, which was not staged until 1997, after co-authoring television scripts. He got his big break as a lyricist for West Side Story (1957), with a score Leonard Bernstein, and Gypsy (1959), with a score Jule Styne. He hoped to compose the music for Gypsy, but Ethel Merman, who played the lead, insisted on a more experienced composer.

Sondheim got his first chance to write lyrics and music for a musical with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), and it outlasted West Side Story on Broadway. However, his next production, Angela Lansbury’s debut in musical theater, Anyone Can Whistle, was a flop after only nine performances. Sondheim composed and wrote lyrics for a series of mostly memorable musicals after another stint as lyricist, this time for Richard Rodgers’ Do I Hear a Waltz?

the business (1970)

Stupidity (1971)

Some Late-Night Music (1973)

Overtures from the Pacific (1976)

Sweeney Todd is a character in the film Sweeney Todd (1979)

We’re cruising along happily (1981)

George and I spent a Sunday afternoon in the park (1984)

Into the Woods is a film that tells the story of a (1987)

Assailants (1990)

with zeal (1994)

Wise Men (1999)

bouncing (2003)

The Frogs are a group of frogs (2004)

Sondheim has also adapted his musicals to other media, such as television adaptations of Company and a feature film adaptation of Sweeney Todd in 2007. In the same year, he composed incidental music for King Lear and wrote songs for the film Dick Tracy.

The composer has received numerous accolades, including a Grammy Award for Sweeney Todd’s score, a Grammy Song of the Year for “Send in the Clowns,” a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Sunday in the Park with George, and an Academy Award for Dick Tracy’s “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man).” He’s also the recipient of six Tony Awards and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received in 1993.