Oct 11, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Stephen Sondheim

Gypsy, at the Fine Arts Center. You can see more photos of the performance on the Fine Arts Center's Facebook page

Gypsy, a "gutsy, sad, funny, big number, Golden Age musical" is currently onstage courtesy of the FAC's Theatre Company. Running through October 21, this 26-time Tony nominee musical boasts lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. As testimony to his talent, the Theatre Company has presented ten productions of Sondheim musicals over the past 25 seasons.

Stephen Sondheim (source)
Stephen Sondheim, born March 22, 1930, is an American composer and lyricist who is well-known for his contributions to musical theatre. Frank Rich of the New York Times describes Sondheim as "now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater".

Sondheim was born in New York City, the perfect place to cultivate his interest in musical theatre. At 9 years old, he saw the Broadway musical Very Warm for May. He recalls his impressions, saying,

"The curtain went up and revealed a piano. A butler took a duster and brushed it up, tinkling the keys. I thought that was thrilling." 

At 10, Sondheim befriended James Hammerstein, son of playwright Oscar Hammerstein II. As Sondheim's own father had left the family, Hammerstein became a sort of surrogate father to him, and further influenced his love of musical theatre. At the opening of South Pacific, written by Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers, Sondheim met Harold Prince, who would later direct many shows for him.

After finishing at Williams College in 1950, Sondheim began auditioning songs. He struggled to garner much attention for his work, until his big break came when he was hired to write the lyrics to West Side Story. Following West Side Story, Sondheim wrote the lyrics to Gypsy. These musicals sparked a successful career for Sondheim writing lyrics and scores for Broadway musicals, one of the best known being Sweeny Todd.

Today, Sondheim is critically acclaimed, and has won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, an Academy Award for Best Song, and several Grammys and Tonys. In 2012, the New York Philharmonic held Sondheim: The Birthday Concert in honor of his turning 80.

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