Stephen Sondheim, ‘the Titan of American Musical Theatre’, passed away at his home in the small town of Roxbury, Connecticut on 26 November at the age of 91. Lights were dimmed in early December at all venues on Broadway and the West End, where he has theatres named after him. He was considered the theatre’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th Century.
The New York Times former theatre critic, Frank Rich, wrote, “Stephen Sondheim was the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre.” In case you need reminding, here is why: WEST SIDE STORY (1957), GYPSY (1959), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962), COMPANY (1970), FOLLIES (1971), A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (1973 – including one of my favourite songs,’Send In The Clowns’), his best; SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979), MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (1981), SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984), INTO THE WOODS (1987), ASSASSINS (1990) and PASSION (1994).
Among his many accolades, Steve collected eight Tony and Grammy Awards, six Oliviers, A Pulitzer (for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE) and an Oscar for Best Original Song – ‘Sooner or Later’ from DICK TRACY (1990), sung by Madonna. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015.
A frequent visitor to London, I had the honour of meeting him on a couple of occasions, the first at the Royal Festival Hall’s Artist Entrance in October 2010, when he was interviewed by Jude Kelly. By that time he had stopped signing autographs and politely declined my request along with a handful of people waiting with similar intent. I was pre-warned when I wrote to him and received a reply, apologising, but after years of accommodating fans he had decided to discontinue the practice.
However, a year earlier I did manage to acquire a signed autograph album page from an American collector. I drew this quick portrait sketch last week and added the sig in remembrance of the great man.