Broadway says goodbye to one of its greatest geniuses. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died on Friday morning at the age of 91 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, sources close to the family have reported. The cause of the sudden death has not been revealed, but the last thing Sondheim did: celebrate Thanksgiving with his family last night.
A man of great musical and literary talent, he signed, throughout a career that spanned more than sixty years and began when he was 27 with West Side Story, some of the most memorable pages of the theater of the second half of the 20th century. Heir to the extraordinary tradition of American lyricists, titans of intelligence and the short phrase like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or the Gerswhin brothers, his work contributed to endow the musical with an intellectual stature that was never at odds with its popular reach. Among his best-known creations are Follies (1971), Company (1970) the Sweeney Todd (1979). And although he always conceived his musicals as complex units from which it was difficult to extract some of their parts as individual hits, Sondheim also created songs of such commercial fortune as the melancholic Send in The Clowns.
In a business given to pairs of authors, his was a strange case of an outstanding composer and lyricist, the latter profession in which he stood out in the beginning, in the aforementioned West Side Story (1957, with score by Leonard Bernstein) o Gypsy (1959, with Jule Styne).
The theme of his works denied time and time again the topic that the musical dispatches as a mild entertainment in which the actors start singing and dancing for no reason so that the time can pass as soon as possible. Sondheim keenly tried and drew on couple relationships (Follies), the tradition of political assassination in the United States (Assassins, in which he voiced assassins as John Wilkes Booth, murderer of Lincoln, O Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy), Yankee imperialism in Asia (Pacific Overtures) and even the life of the pointillist painter George Seurat (Sunday in the Park with Georges).
His was a life also full of recognition. With just 15 works in his career, he won an Oscar, eight Tony Awards, a Pulitzer, a Laurence Olivier and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A theater bears his name on Broadway and another in London.
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