Suffering The Loss of The Sensational Sondheim


Tara Coffey, Staff Writer

On Nov. 26, the world lost a musical theater legend and a one-of-a-kind man. Stephen Sondheim, who many saw not only as a master of his craft but as a “god of theater,” unfortunately lost his life following Thanksgiving Day at the age of 91. Sondheim is without a doubt one of the most iconic and influential personalities of the musical theater world.
Sondheim is well known for countless Tony-award winning musicals as well as unforgettable musical numbers that went on to win Grammy awards.
As a young boy, he was inspired by the legendary Oscar Hammerstein. Hammerstein was a dear friend to the Sondheim family and constantly helped Stephen make his mark. Hammerstein was instrumental in teaching Sondheim, allowing Sondheim’s talent to shine through.
Many people say Sondheim reinvented musical theater in America since he tackled such diverse issues within his work. For example, as the lyricist for the popular musical “West Side Story,” Sondheim used the opportunity to discuss issues that could be considered controversial.
Not only does this musical cover the aspects of racism in our country, which can be heard within the lyrics in the song ‘America,’ but it also discusses the issue of teenage rebellion and, even more specifically, how many adults and authoritative figures saw teenagers as “delinquents,” which can be heard in “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
Sondheim did something many other lyricists and composers did not have the bravery to do, which is acknowledge many issues that people were too afraid to discuss. He eloquently opened conversations and highlighted these social issues creatively through his music.
Sondheim continued his legendary work that touched upon difficult subjects when he composed the music for “Assassins.” This musical discusses the historical figures who attempted to assassinate different presidents of the United States, whether they were successful or not. For example, this show discusses John Wilkes Booth and David Herold in their assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as Lee Harvey Oswald with his assassination of John F. Kennedy. “Assassins” goes into depth of the real-life characters’ history and the reasoning
behind their actions and behaviors. Sondheim uses his unique sound to compose multiple songs that not only explain the impact that these characters made on America, but also help explain what might have been going through the heads of these historic villains.
It goes without saying that Sondheim will go down in musical theater history as an astonishing and marvelous inspiration as well. For example, “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson was greatly inspired by Sondheim, who regularly showed up to Larson’s original work in the beginning of Larson’s career. Sondheim appeared to see something in Larson that gave Larson confidence and fortitude.
Sondheim’s influence on Larson is explored in Larson’s musical “Tick, Tick, Boom,” which Lin-Manuel Miranda has just adapted to film. Within this autobiographical musical, Larson repeatedly mentions that Sondheim stood up for him and helped him develop into the artist he became. In fact, Sondheim reached out to Larson, as well as other beginners, to try and help them and pass on the insight that Hammerstein gave him.
Miranda has stated on multiple occasions that Sondheim is a musical icon and inspiration for him, but he wanted Sondheim to be a part of this new Netflix production as well. Sondheim agreed and recorded a voicemail for the movie, using his actual voice and describing that he truly felt he helped Larson grow into an incredible artist before Larson’s unfortunate passing in 1996.
Miranda also spoke of how much of an inspiration Sondheim had been and shared an email on Twitter with Sondheim’s response to both helping Larson and Miranda, “Thanks for the nice boost to my spirits, Lin. It’s an aspect of my life I’m proud of. I feel as if I’ve repaid (partially at least) what I owe Oscar (Hammerstein).”
During the late 20th century and well into the 21st century, Sondheim made his mark as a composer and lyricist and will be remembered as an iconic influence in the world of musical theater with his beloved work. It goes without saying, Sondheim repaid Hammerstein time and time again with his constant encouragement of future composers. There is a lot that can be said about Sondheim’s incredible work throughout so many years, but no words will ever describe the impact he has made on not only musical theater, but also on countless people and the world itself.
Stephen Sondheim will be greatly missed, and his talent will always go unmatched.