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Musical theatre’s greatest composer dies aged 91



American composer and songwriter Stephen Sondheim has been praised as a “musical theatre giant of our times” after his death aged 91.

The great composer and lyricist died at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut early on Friday.

Company, Into the Woods, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd are among the best-known of Sondheim’s musicals, which have dominated Broadway and the West End for more than 50 years.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is among the high profile musical theatre names leading tributes to the man who “fundamentally shifted an entire art form”.

Lord Lloyd Webber tweeted: “Farewell Steve, the musical theatre giant of our times, an inspiration not just to two but to three generations. Your contribution to theatre will never be equalled.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was “in awe” of Sondheim and described him as a “really extraordinary”.

A Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Sondheim received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at a ceremony in the White House in 2015.

Bernadette Peters, a frequent collaborator who starred in several of Sondheim’s shows, said: “I am so so sad to lose my friend Steve Sondheim. He gave me so much to sing about. I loved him dearly and will miss him so much. Thank you for all the gifts you gave the world Steve.”

Barbra Streisand, whose The Broadway Album featured lyrics written by Sondheim, tweeted: “Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and great lyrics! May he rest in peace.”

The prolific composer was still working weeks before his death, revealing in September he had written a new musical, Square One, which was expected to debut on Broadway in 2022. It is unclear whether the show, thought to be in the early workshop stages, will now proceed.

He also made a rare cameo by phone in Netflix’s adaptation of the Jonathan Larsen musical Tick, Tick Boom, which was released to critical acclaim last week and features a fictionalised version of the composer.

Sondheim had also paid visits to the set of Stephen Spielberg’s new film adaptation of the musical West Side Story, for which he wrote the lyrics.

Spielberg said Sondheim was “one of our country’s greatest songwriters, a lyricist and composer of real genius, and a creator of some of the most glorious musical dramas ever written”.

In a statement reported by ABC News he said the pair had become friends recently and he “knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met”.

He added: “When we spoke, I couldn’t wait to listen, awestruck by the originality of his perceptions of art, politics and people – all delivered brilliantly by his mischievous wit and dazzling words.

“I will miss him very much, but he left a body of work that has taught us, and will keep teaching us, how hard and how absolutely necessary it is to love.”

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted: “Stephen Sondheim was real. Yes, he wrote Tony & Maria AND Sweeney Todd AND Bobby AND George & Dot AND Fosca AND countless more.

“Some may theorize Shakespeare’s works were by committee but Steve was real & he was here & he laughed SO loud at shows & we loved him.”

Sir Tim Rice said: “RIP Stephen Sondheim, master musical man.

“His words for West Side Story alone would have guaranteed him theatrical immortality but there was so much more.

“He bestrode songwriting like a Colossus.”

Additional reporting by Press Association



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