Broadway and West End tributes to Sondheim
Jewish Telegraph, December 2021
STEPHEN Sondheim’s death on Friday led to an outpouring of grief from stars of Broadway and the West End.
Theatres in New York and London dimmed their lights for two minutes in tribute to 91-year-old Sondheim on Sunday, while thousands packed Broadway earlier that day for a special event in his honour.
Director Steven Spielberg was quick to release a statement.
Sondheim’s death comes just two weeks before Spielberg’s version of West Side Story, which features lyrics by the composer, is released in cinemas.
“Stephen Sondheim was a gigantic figure in American culture — 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,” Spielberg wrote.
“Steve and I became friends only recently, but we became good friends and I was surprised to discover that he knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met.
“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.”
Other stars took to Twitter to sing the praises of the man who is said to have redefined the American musical.
Barbra Streisand tweeted: “Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics.”
Book of Mormon star Josh Gad wrote: “Thank you Mr Sondheim for your Demon Barber, some Night Music, a Sunday in the Park, Company, fun at a Forum, a trip Into the Woods and telling us a West Side Story.”
Idina Menzel, who appeared in Sondheim’s Into the Woods, tweeted: “Goodbye dear sir. We will spend our lives trying to make you proud. #stephensondheim.”
Comedy legend Mel Brooks added his tribute: “Writing both music and lyrics for a Broadway show is not easy to do — I know, because I’ve done it. But Stephen Sondheim could do it all and made it look easy. He was an incredible gift to the Broadway stage. He will be sorely missed.”
Harvey Fierstein added: “There will b tributes 2 Sondheim. The great will bow. Fans will bury the streets in flowers. Airwaves will fill w/ his music. Poets will intone his lyrics. Friends will weep uncomfortably in their own mortality. Oh, that Sondheim. We’ll never hear the end of him! (I hope).”
Dear Evan Hansen writer Benj Pasek tweeted: “Sondheim is the most important influence on generations of creators. His loss is devastating, but his work will continue to ripple out in every song & story we sing on stage. He simultaneously broke our hearts & taught us how to piece them back together again. A life well-lived.”
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who co-wrote Come From Away, explained that while writing their hit musical “we often referenced Into The Woods, about a group entering separately and emerging changed and bonded together. Every work by #Sondheim did the same thing, bonding together a musical community. None on our work could’ve been imagined without him. RIP.”
But it wasn’t just Jewish stars paying tribute.
Hamilton and Into the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted: “Future historians: 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 Paul McCartney wrote: “I was fortunate to meet him and chat about songwriting. He was a witty intelligent man. Send in the Clowns is one of my favourite songs. So well crafted and beautiful with it. We have lost a great talent but his music will live long and prosper. Goodbye Stephen, we love you. Paul x.”
West End legend Elaine Paige described him as “one of the most important musical theatre giants of his generation”.
Jewish singer-songwriter Rachael Sage told the Jewish Telegraph: “Stephen Sondheim’s passing brings up so much emotion for me as he’s long been my favourite composer and lyricist, and I can remember where and when I was throughout my life, reminiscing about his incredible work.
“We are now being reminded that countless people around the globe have been touched by his beautiful storytelling talent, from West Side Story to Company, currently enjoying a revival on Broadway.
“I met my college best friend going to see her perform as The Bakers Wife in Into The Woods, and most people who know me well know that my favourite Sondheim score is Sunday In The Park With George.
“My favourite song from that musical is Move On, and I was fortunate enough to see it live with two of my favourite singer/actors, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. It doesn’t get any better!!
“Thank you Mr. Sondheim for all you gave us, and for the impact you made through your creative genius, discipline and empathy.”
Mamma Mia star Mazz Murray added: “Indeed a very sad time in theatre. My generation grew up with Sondheim. He changed the face and path of musicals.
“My peers’ reaction to his death was like they had lost a family member. He so was adored. So idolised. Many masterpieces and many favourites. Without doubt for me, when he teamed up with Leonard Bernstein for West Side Story — this was his finest.
“One of my absolute favourite soundtracks ever. So although we lost the Father of Musical Theatre on my birthday — if every year on November 26 they play this overture — then that will always be the greatest present ever.
“Thank you for ‘A Lot of Night Music’, Stephen.”
Musical theatre star Jodie Beth Meyer, who is touring with Tell Me On a Sunday, said: “It’s difficult to know where to start when trying to sum up my feelings on the passing of Stephen Sondheim.
“I’ve read so many wonderful tributes over the last few days, and although I didn’t ever have any personal interaction or contact with him, his lyrics, music, work and presence in the theatre community have had a profound effect on my life, career and love of art.
“As a teenager I fell in love with West Side Story. So much so that it was my chosen subject to study at music A-level. Exploring and analysing Sondheim’s lyrics brought such joy.
“In 2006, while I was still training, I was lucky enough to be cast in the core company of Happily Ever After. This was a gala performance of Sondheim’s work at the Fortune Theatre.
“There were performances from famous actors — most notable being Barbara Cook, who had flown over from America especially. It was my first real glimpse into the wonderful world of Sondheim and the effect his work had on the theatre industry and audiences and I was in awe.
“The following year, my first third year show at Mountview was Company. Our director was Tim Sheader and our musical director was Sondheim expert Stuart Pedlar.
“I played the supporting role of Kathy which was just glorious. I learned and grew so much as an actor through that process and was signed by my first agent.
“Less than a year later, fresh out of college, I got my first professional role in the new musical Imagine This at Theatre Royal, Plymouth. It was a Jewish musical set in the Second World War, directed by Tim. I always felt like this was b’shert.
“While training we were always taught not to take Sondheim material to an audition because they are too difficult to play.
“However, we also had to have a whole section in our repertoire folders only for Sondheim. I think that in itself says it all.
“I went to events held by the Sondheim Society, both performances and talks. It was at one of these that I heard some of Evening Primrose. I adore the song I Remember and still sing it today. I also performed it in 2010 in Finishing the Hat: Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert.
“In 2015 I played a dream role of mine in another Sondheim show — Petra in A Little Night Music. Every night singing The Miller’s Son, which I had never attempted before due to it’s complexity, was such a thrill. I had to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone and gladly took on the challenge.
“Sondheim’s music, lyrics and message will live on in all of us. As the great man himself once said, ‘If I cannot fly, let me sing’.”