Legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Composer Stephen Sondheim. Photo courtesy Biography.com.

The entertainment world is mourning the passing of a prolific composer.

Stephen Sondheim, whose music has been featured in Broadway hits such as West Side Story, Gypsy, Company, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was 91. 

His passing comes as a Steven Spielberg-directed film remake of West Side Story prepares for a world premiere next month.

In a career that spanned seven decades, Sondheim was either a composer or lyricist for 19 musical productions, plus nine TV and film adaptations. He also wrote music or script for a variety of film and television projects.

Born in New York City in 1930, he attended the prestigious Fieldston School, New York Military Academy, and Williams College. When he was ten years old, he became friends with the son of Broadway composer Oscar Hammerstein II, who soon took the young Sondheim under his wing. By age 22, Sondheim had written four musicals at Hammerstein’s request.

Sondheim’s first Broadway success was in 1957 with West Side Story, where he wrote lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score. He followed that up two years later with Gypsy, with Jule Styne on score. His first musical as both composer and lyricist was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962. Sondheim’s music got mixed reviews despite the show being a hit.

Teaming up with Broadway director Harold Prince throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Sondheim did the music for the Broadway shows Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific OverturesSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Merrily We Roll Along. With James Lapine in the 1980s and ’90s, he wrote Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Passion.

Later productions included Assassins, Saturday Night, and Wise Guys.

Sondheim won a total of eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and an Academy Award for the 1990 film Dick Tracy, for the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man).”

Sondheim is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, whom he married in 2017.