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Barbra Streisand and George Takei lead tributes to incomparable musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim

Maggie Baska November 27, 2021
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Stephen Sondheim appears at the 2019 Songbook Gala

Stephen Sondheim attends the 2019 American Songbook Gala at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on 19 June 2019 in New York City. (Getty/Roy Rochlin)

Tributes have poured in from theatre, film and TV stars for musical theatre icon Stephen Sondheim, who has died aged 91.

His death was announced by his lawyer and friend, F Richard Pappas. Pappas told the New York Times that Sondheim suddenly passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut early Friday (26 November).

According to Pappas, Sondheim has celebrated Thanksgiving with friends just the day before. Sondheim is survived by his husband Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017.

The legendary composer and songwriter was a titan of the musical world with a career spanning more than 60 years and was best known for helping to create some classics West Side Story, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and Company.

Barbra Streisand said she was thankful that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old “so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics”.

George Takei wrote on Twitter that the musical theatre world had “lost a towering giant” with Sondheim’s passing.

“Stephen Sondheim’s legacy of song and lyric is unparalleled,” Takei said. “From West Side Story to Sweeney Todd, from Gypsy to Sunday in the Park with George, there will never be a master like him.”

Idina Menzel shared a simple and heartfelt goodbye to the composer, adding that her fellow Broadway stars will “spend our lives trying to make you proud”.

Phantom of the Opera creator Andrew Lloyd Webber described Stephen Sondheim as 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,” Webber added.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda left a note to “future historians” on Twitter that Sondheim “was real”.

“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,” Miranda wrote.

The Tony Awards official Twitter account also released a tribute to the legendary composer. The organisation thanked Sondheim for “so much brilliance in the theatre and sharing your music with us all”.

Born on 22 March 1930 in Manhattan, Stephen Sondheim was tutored by the composer Oscar Hammerstein II and wrote his first musical at 15. He had his first musical hit at the age of 27 with West Side Story which debuted in 1957 and ran for more than 700 performances.

Over his lengthy career, Sondheim won six Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, five Olivier Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1985. He also received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.

In 2015, then-president Barack Obama awarded Sondheim with the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian award, for his work. Obama described Sondheim as a “genre unto himself” and whose work “challenges his audiences”. He later added that Sondheim “reinvented the American musical”.

More: Idina Menzel, Stephen Sondheim

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