Stephen Sondheim death: Sweeney Todd composer passes away aged 91

Stephen Sondheim, the legendary theatre composer has died aged 91.

Regarded as one of the foremost artists of the 20th Century, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and composed Into the Woods among many others.

Sondheim’s friend and lawyer F Richard Pappas announced his death, which he described as “sudden”.

According to Pappas, Sondheim had spent the previous day having a Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Born in New York in 1930, Sondheim was tutored by the great composer Oscar Hammerstein and wrote his first musical at 15. He went on to have his first hit at just 27 with West Side Story which was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Fifties New York City.

In a Broadway career that lasted over 60 years, Sondheim co-created other classics of the stage such as Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Company.

He is widely regarded as being key to raising the artistic standards of the musical, which was often considered light entertainment.

Across his lengthy career, Sondheim won nine Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammys and and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985.

Sondheim was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015.

There have been many film adaptations of Sondheim’s work including the 1961 Oscar winning adaptation of West Side Story. The news of Sondheim’s death comes a month before Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story is released in cinemas.

Cameron Mackintosh, the British theatre producer behind Les Miserables and Mary Poppins paid tribute to Sondheim in a statement: “The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers. Sadly, there is now a giant in the sky. But the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim will still be here as his legendary songs and shows will be performed for evermore. Goodbye old friend and thank you from all of us.”

Sondheim’s cause of death is not yet known.

More to come…

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