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Stephen Sondheim Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Trivia (48)  | Personal Quotes (19)

Overview (3)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Birth NameStephen Joshua Sondheim
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Sondheim's work as a composer-lyricist over the past four decades has set the standard for modern American musical theater. He has won a record seven Tony Awards for his songwriting, and received a Pulitzer Prize for Sunday in the Park with George. Sondheim was an unpaid and uncredited clapper boy on Beat the Devil (1953). He tried out as a contestant on The $64,000 Question (1955) in 1955. While not chosen, he did correctly identify 19 of the 21 films John Ford had directed up to that point.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Andrew Milner <ajm@bbs.cpcn.com>

Trivia (48)

Born at 3:30am-EST.
His very first job when he graduated Williams College was to head to Hollywood and work as an assistant writer on the hit early sitcom, Topper (1953). He donated the scripts to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison.
Was taught by broadway legend, Oscar Hammerstein II.
Provides the voice of Rose's father on the original cast album to Gypsy (1962) in the song, Some People. He practically snarls the line "You ain't getting eighty-eight cents out of me, Rose!" Sondheim claims this is because he was incredibly frustrated with Ethel Merman, who refused to read the line "...and you can go to hell!".
His musical, Merrily We Roll Along, was awarded the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 2001 (2000 season) for Best New Musical.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (basis for the 1966 movie of the same name) was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 2000 (1999 season) for Outstanding Musical Production.
He was awarded the 2004 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Outstanding Musical Production of 2003 for Pacific Overtures performed at the Donmar Warehouse.
He was awarded the 1989 London Evening Standard Theatre Award's Special Award for Lifetime Achievement to Theatre.
Katharine Hepburn was his neighbor in New York City for many years.
He was awarded the 1996 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical with James Lapine for Passion (1996).
Shares birthday with fellow musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Has won seven Tony Award: in 1971, as best score (musical) and best lyrics (musical) for Company; in 1972, as best score (composer and lyricist) for Follies; in 1973, as best score (musical-music and lyrics) for A Little Night Music; in 1979, as best score (music and lyrics) for Sweeney Todd; in 1988, as best score (musical-music and lyrics) for Into the Woods; and in 1994, as best score (music and lyrics) for Passion. He was also Tony-nominated six other times: in 1958, his lyrics as part of a best musical nomination for West Side Story; in 1960, his lyrics as part of a best musical nomination for Gypsy; in 1965, as best composer and lyricist with collaborator Richard Rodgers for Do I Hear a Waltz?; in 1976, as best score (music and lyrics) for Pacific Overtures; in 1982, as best score (music and lyrics) for Merrily We Roll Along; and in 1984, as best score (music and lyrics) for Sunday in the Park with George. Although A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum won the Tony for best musical in 1963, this is a producer's award.
Is aficionado of puzzles, according to The New York Times.
Stephen Sondheim was the Turner Classic Movies programmer for March 22, 2005, the cable network's way of honoring him on his 75th birthday. The six films he picked for his birthday tribute were The Mind Reader (1933), starring the under-appreciated Warren William as a con-man posing as a clairvoyant; The Clock (1945), Vincente Minnelli's classic film of war-time love, starring Judy Garland & Robert Walker; Smiles of a Summer Night (Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)), the Ingmar Bergman classic on which he based his A Little Night Music; Out of the Fog (1941), starring the great John Garfield, plus the always intriguing Ida Lupino; Night Must Fall (1937) , the classic thriller in which Robert Montgomery first played against type, as a serial killer who carries around a head in a hat-box; and Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939), starring Glenda Farrell as a brassy female reporter who never goes near Chinatown.
Was mentor to the late Jonathan Larson, creator of Rent and Tick, Tick . . . BOOM!.
He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1996 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C.
His two favorites among his own songs are Someone in a Tree (Pacific Overtures) and The Miller's Son (A Little Night Music).
The vast majority of Desperate Housewives (2004) episodes are named after after Sondheim shows, songs, or lyrics ("Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry is a Sondheim fan). The cast of the show also participated in a video tribute to Sondheim shown at his 75th birthday concert on July 8, 2005, at the Hollywood Bowl. In the video, the cast (in their "Housewives" characters) listed their favorite Sondheim songs for comedic effect.
Alumni of George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania. His first musical was named By George about life at the Bucks Country Boarding School. It was written and performed when he was a student.
Member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Williams College.
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.
His play, "Company," was awarded the 1977 Joseph Jefferson Citation for Play-Production at the Summer Comedy Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
Won a 2008 Special Tony Award (New York City) lifetime achievement award.
Stephen Sondheim won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the musical 1985 "Sunday in the Park with George" collaborating with James Lapine.
His musical, "Merrily We Roll Along," at the Music Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for the 2011 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical (Midsize).
He has stated that his original ambition was to become a mathematician and that he became a composer largely by chance. A big influence was the fact that famed lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (of Rodgers & Hammerstein) was a neighbor of his when Sondheim was a boy. When he wrote a musical for a school production, he showed it to Hammerstein who told him it was the worst musical he had ever read. However, Hammerstein also told him that nonetheless it showed a lot of latent talent and proceeded to tell him everything that was wrong with it and how to fix it, for which Sondheim was always grateful.
His musical, "A Little Night Music" at the Writers' Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2012 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical (Large).
His musical revue, "Stephen Sondheim's Putting It Together," at the Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2012 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical Production (Midsize).
His musical, "Sweeney Todd" at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre in Oakbrook, Illinois was nominated for a 2012 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical Production (Large).
His musical, "Follies" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 2012 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical Production (Large).
His musical, "Sunday In the Park With George," at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 2013 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Large Musical Production.
Arthur Laurents and his musical, "Gypsy" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2014 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Large Musical Production.
James Lapine and his musical, "Passion" at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 2014 Joseph Jefferson Non-Equity Award for Musical Production.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama 24 November 2014.
"The Ballad Of Buzz Cola" (from The Simpsons: Yokel Chords (2007)) is the only Stephen Sondheim song in which he isn't credited for the lyrics; the credit goes to Michael Price.
His musical, "Sweeney Todd" at the Apple Tree Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 1987 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical Production.
His musical, "Into the Woods" at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2007 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award for Musical Production and Ensemble.
His musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," at the Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for the 2015 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Midsize Musical Production.
His musical revue, "Sondheim on Sondheim" at the Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 2015 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Revue Production.
His musical, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at the Porchlight Music Theatre was nominated for a 2015 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Midsize Musical Production.
His musical, "Into the Woods" at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 1990 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Musical Production.
His musical, "Sweeney Todd," at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 1993 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Musical Production.
His musical, "Assassins" at the Kokandy Productions Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2015 Joseph Jefferson Non-Equity Award for Musical Production.
He was awarded the 1971 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (Special Award) for Restoring Craftsmanship to the Art of the Lyric for the musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
He was awarded the 1989 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Distinguished Achievement in Original Musical Score for, "Into the Woods," at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
His musical,"Into the Woods" on Broadway in New York City was nominated for a 2002 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for Best Revival.
George Furth and his play, "Getting Away with Murder," in a Gordon Davidson and Mark Taper Forum production at the Sundays at the Itchey Foot Theatre in Los Angeles, California was awarded the 1992 Drama Logue Award for Outstanding Production.
His musical, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," at the Paramount Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was awarded the 2017 Joseph Jefferson Equity Award for Large Musical Production.

Personal Quotes (19)

My idea of heaven is not writing.
On stage, generally speaking, the story is stopped or held back by songs, because that's the convention. Audiences enjoy the song and the singer, that's the point. Static action - if that's not an oxymoron - is accepted. It's what writer Burt Shevelove used to call "savouring the moment". That's a very tricky business on film. It's fine if the songs are presentational, as in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers-style movie where you watch them for the fun of it, but not with storytelling songs. When the song is part of the action and working as dialogue, even two minutes is way too long.
My mother had a lot of pretensions. One of them that she picked up from some of her tonier friends was 'luncheon' which always struck me as a screamingly funny word. 'I'm having a luncheon at 21' she would say. I think 'lunch' is one of the funniest words in the world. That's one of the reasons I used it.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hearing my voice before, I tend to sing very loud, often off-pitch, and always write in keys that are just out of my range.
Oscar Hammerstein really believed that there was 'A bright golden haze in the meadow'. I never have.
I want people to enjoy what I write. I'm a product of Broadway, no matter how pretentious anybody thinks what I write is. I'm not writing for myself. I'm writing to entertain, to make people laugh and cry and think. I want as big an audience as possible.
[observation, 2014] How much effect does the theatre have on life? In the '20s, the theatre had an effect on public thinking. I think today, by the time a show gets onstage, the idea has already passed. Theatre is now a cottage industry and a cottage entertainment. It doesn't have much influence.
[on 'Assassins'] Every time I saw a reference to the show as singing, dancing assassins, it would just piss me off, pardon the expression. Sing they do, but when they dance they're not happy about it. Nobody at the end of the show should feel that we have been excusing or sentimentalizing these people. We're examining the system that causes these horrors. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the pursuit of happiness. It doesn't guarantee the happiness. That's the difference. These are people who feel they've been cheated of their happiness, each one in a different way.
Oscar Hammerstein had urged me to write from my own sensibility, but at that time I had no sensibility, no take on the world. My voice snuck up on me. I started to develop an attitude in 'Saturday Night,' a laconic lyrical style in 'Gypsy' and a structurally experimental musical one in 'Anyone Can Whistle.' They all came together in full-throated fruition in 'Company.' 'Oh,' I thought at the end of the opening number, 'that's who I am.' From then on I could afford to try anything, because I knew I had a home base that was mine alone and that would inform everything I would write, good and bad.
If you ask me to write a love song, I don't know what to write. But if you say, 'Write me a torch song about a girl who's just been jilted by a guy, and she comes into a bar and she's in a red dress and she orders a grasshopper,' that I can write, because you've started to characterize and give me specifics to write about - there's a drink to write about, there's a bar to write about, there's a dress to write about. Who was the guy who jilted her? Why did she choose that dress?
I suppose if there's one show that's closest to my heart, it would probably be 'Sunday in the Park With George,' because of the ambitiousness of what it's trying to say, and because I really feel, obviously, for the subject matter.
I liked theater, but I loved movies of every kind: dramas, comedies, short subjects and especially trailers - everything in fact except musicals, which with the exception of 'The Wizard of Oz' I either tolerated if I enjoyed the songs or was bored by if I didn't. My particular favorites were romantic melodramas and suspense pieces like 'Casablanca' and the Hitchcock movies of the period, movies in which the music was as important to the storytelling as the actors were.
I had a lot of trouble with my mother, getting along with her, and she- she didn't really want a child. But she was very much in love I think, with my father, and even obsessed with him. So when he left her, which he did, for another woman, the wrath of God had nothing on her, and she, unfortunately, tried to make me pay for the sins of my father, and so it was not a very good relationship. And if it hadn't been for the Hammersteins, I really don't know where I would be, or if I'd even be alive.
[on the song 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' from 'Gypsy'] The difficulty was to find a way to say 'Things are going to be better than ever' without being flatly colloquial on the one hand or fancifully imagistic on the other. I was proud of the solution, and especially so when I picked up the New York Times one morning in 1968 and read the first sentence in the leading editorial: 'Everything is not coming up roses in Vietnam.' I had passed a phrase into the English language.
[on Rap and Lin Manuel-Miranda] Of all the forms of contemporary pop music, rap is the closest to traditional musical theater, both in its vamp-heavy rhythmic drive and in its verbal playfulness. I imitated it in the opening number of 'Into the Woods.' But I was never able to find another appropriate use for the technique, or perhaps I didn't have the imagination to. Miranda does. Rap is a natural language for him and he is a master of the form, but enough of a traditionalist to know the way he can utilize its theatrical potential. This strikes me as a classic example of the way art moves forward: the blending of two conventional styles into something wholly original, like the marriage of Impressionism and Japanese prints in the late 19th century. It's one pathway to the future.
The sad truth is that musicals are the only public art form reviewed mostly by ignoramuses. Books are reviewed by writers, the visual arts by disappointed, if knowledgeable, painters and art students, concert music by composers and would-be composers. Plays, at least in this country, are reviewed by people who don't know de Montherlant from de Ghelderode and couldn't care less, whose knowledge is comprised of what they read in Variety and gossip columns, and who know nothing, of course, about music. Musicals continue to be the only art form, popular or otherwise, that is publicly criticized by illiterates.
[on his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein] Just before he died, he gave me a picture of himself and I asked him to inscribe it, which is sort of odd because he was a surrogate father to me, it's like asking your father to inscribe a picture. And he thought for a minute, and he was clearly a little embarrassed. And then he got a smile on his face, like the cat had just eaten the cream. And he wrote something. And when he left the room, I looked at it. And it said 'For Stevey, my friend and teacher.' That's a measure of Oscar. He wrote a lyric, as a matter of fact, in 'The King and I' - by your pupils you are taught. He was a remarkable fellow.
[on the labeling of 'Sweeney Todd' as an opera or a musical] 'Dark operetta' is the closest I can come, but that's as much a misnomer as any of the others. What 'Sweeney Todd' really is is a movie for the stage.
[on Oscar Hammerstein II] Oscar was able to write about dreams and grass and stars because he believed in them.

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