Stephen Sondheim, celebrated as one of the most influential and innovative voices in the history of American musical theater, passed away suddenly on November 26, aged 91.Considered the greatest composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century, Sondheim dominated Broadway creating musically challenging works with mischievous wit and dazzling storytelling.
His shows, from the comedic “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” to the ground-breaking “Company” to the operatic “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” transformed the Broadway musical stage. His lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Jules Styne’s “Gypsy”, became even more pronounced and sophisticated as he grew as a composer and conceiver of musical subjects. Many of his musicals were sardonic and downbeat, not always to mass-audience tastes. But critics and musical theatre devotees thrill to them, as do I.
Among his most memorable songs was “Send in the Clowns,” from “A Little Night Music.” Particularly poignant, is Sondheim’s lyric to “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”, a modern day telling of the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet”. The lovers sing of belonging……“There’s a place for us / A time and place for us / Hold my hand and we’re halfway there / Hold my hand and I’ll take you there”.
Musical theatre star Lea Salonga speaks for performers and theatre goers, “We shall be singing your songs forever.”