Sondheim, Stephen

Sondheim, (Joshua) Stephen

(1930–  ) composer, lyricist; born in New York City. He received tutoring from family friend Oscar Hammerstein II and at age 17 was a production assistant for Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein. He wrote some music for television shows and for the play Girls of Summer (1956) before making his debut on Broadway by writing lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957) and Jule Styne's Gypsy (1959). He first wrote music as well as words for the successful farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). With producer-director Harold Prince he wrote both words and music for a string of innovative works, including A Little Night Music (1973)—which contained his best-known song, "Send in the Clowns"—and Pacific Overtures (1976), which combined elements of the Broadway musical with Japanese Kabuki theater. He won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in drama for Sunday in the Park with George (1984). Known for their often complex wordplay, evocative music, and unconventional subject matter, his works for stage, screen, and television mark him as one of the true artists of modern musical theater, one of the few who could inspire fans to wait overnight in freezing weather for tickets to merely a revue featuring his songs. He himself remained a private person, never courting publicity, and about all the public knew of him is that he enjoyed word-based puzzles and party games.