On this day: Stephen Sondheim is born

March 22 1930: A lifetime of music and lyrics

By Jennifer Lipman, March 22, 2011

Name a popular or successful musical that appeared on Broadway or in the West End in the last 50 years, and there’s a high chance it will be one written by Stephen Sondheim.

Born in New York City, he had a troubled upbringing but at the age of nine fell in love with the theatre after seeing a production of Oscar Hammerstein II’s Very Warm for May.

As an adult he trained in composition and was mentored by Hammerstein, before going on to write his first professional show Saturday Night in 1954.

Sondheim’s career began taking off in the 1960s and by the 1970s he had a string of successes to his name, including Company, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd.

His work, which ranges from the fairytale Into the Woods to the drama Passion – both recently revived in London – also extends to contributing lyrics for musicals including West Side Story and Gypsy.

Awarded the Society of London Theatre's Special Award at the 2011 Olivier ceremony earlier this month, Sondheim added another gong to his collection of Tony Awards, his Pulitzer Prize and countless other honours.

What the JC said: Who is he, this giant among the ruins of American musical theatre, He is a charming, articulate, rather shy man with silvering hair, a neatly trimmed beard and a compact elegance…even if he never wrote another word or note, he is unlikely to be forgotten. His musical and lyrical subtleties already fill dozens of books, and universities all over the world are already stuffed with earnest PhD students making the study of Sondheim their life’s work.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 11:22am, March 24 2011