When you think about the many famous names that have influenced Broadway, Stephen Sondheim quickly comes to mind. Since his career in American musical theater began in the late 1950s, the surname Sondheim has become synonymous with the perfect match of words and music in musical theater.
Influenced greatly by his mentor, master lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, Sondheim has created so many blockbuster shows that have captured the hearts of theatergoers for years. Many of us find ourselves humming or singing the tunes from these shows even years after having seen them.
What Are Some of Sondheim’s Most Well-Known Shows?
Sondheim is known for a remarkable range of musicals including: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods.
He began his theater career in Los Angeles, California, with scripts for the television series Topper and The Last Word. Once back in the theater world of New York City, Sondheim was asked to write the lyrics for the songs meant for a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Subsequently, his lyrical work on West Side Story helped it become one of Broadway’s most successful productions of all time.
After spending time writing the music and lyrics for shows such as: Gypsy, Invitation to A March, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (a Zero Mostel farce based on comedies by ancient playwright Plautus), Sondheim became very well known and nominated for many accolades.
Like many successful Broadway composers, lyricists, and producers, Sondheim was also awarded top honors. The aforementioned A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum won a Tony Award for best musical. In addition, Sondheim won several more Tony Awards in the 1970s for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company (1970), a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies (1971), a homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music (1973), a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd (1979), a gory melodrama set in Victorian London destined to become a 2007 Tim Burton film. (Source: Biography)
In total, Sondheim has claimed eight Tony Awards, a record for a composer, as well as eight Grammy Awards. He shared the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama with Lapine for Sunday in the Park with George, and won an Academy Award for the song “Sooner or Later,” one of five tracks written for the 1990 film Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty and Madonna.
Sondheim will be remembered for his lifelong contribution to musical theater and his devotion to keeping the music and lyrics both current and easily understood. Perhaps that is why so many of us find ourselves singing showtunes scripted by the master himself.