Legendary Broadway Songwriter Stephen Sondheim Passes Away at 91

Legendary Broadway Songwriter Stephen Sondheim Passes Away at 91

By Jieun Paik, Staff Writer

Stephen Sondheim, best known for his role in composing world-famous musicals, passed away in his home on November 26, 2021. He was 91.

In his lifetime, Sondheim won an Oscar, a Pulitzer, eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the writer of famous musicals such as “Company”, “Into the Woods”, “Sweeny Todd”, and the recently movie-adapted “West Side Story.”

“Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those. As millions mourn his passing I also want to express my gratitude for all he has given to me and so many more,” Hugh Jackman wrote on Twitter.

Sondheim’s history as a composer began under the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein, another influential musical theatre giant. He also worked with Leonard Bernstein on “West Side Story” in 1957, which is considered to be his very first musical. “West Side Story” is a musical retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,”  and recently even got a movie adaptation starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler.

At the height of his career, he was hailed as a revolutionary of musical theatre, writing tragic love stories and villains with complex characterizations. One of his most controversial musicals, “Assassins,” is about the lives of nine people who tried to assassinate presidents. It explores the intricacies of villains in ways that previous musicals shied away from. Though controversial, it has reached cult status among fans for being unapologetically dark and comedic.

Through his many works, Sondheim has established his name as one of the leading composers in the musical world, and millions mourned his death.

Among the many were celebrities who firsthand felt his influence on their careers. Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton” and “In The Heights” expressed his grief on Twitter.

“Steve was real & he was here & he laughed SO loud at shows & we loved him,” Miranda wrote. Miranda was personally mentored by Sondheim and cited Stephen Sondheim as a big influence on his work.

Others, such as Barbara Streisand, Idina Menzel, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Spielberg spoke out about his passing and the importance of the music he created.

Sondheim’s songs connected flowery lyricism with classical music, redefining musical theatre as a genre. He was described as a “mathematician by nature”, perhaps referencing his clever rhymes and precise meters. His musicals were a genre of their own, marked by the specific style of melodies and emotions. Though Sondheim dealt with his fair share of criticisms, he kept working to hone his craft.

His death has struck the musical theatre community profoundly.

“As a big musical theatre person, I have been listening to his compositions for as long as I can remember. And to think that there will never be any more music written by him is heartbreaking, but his legacy will live on. He will never be forgotten,” said Gia Ciccone, a student at Hills.

Sondheim is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Romley.