Curtain closes on ‘great genius’ of theatre with Sweeney Todd creator Sondheim’s death at 91

Stephen Sondheim has been hailed as one of theatre’s “greatest geniuses” after his sudden death at the age of 91.

The creator of the musical Sweeney Todd died on Friday morning at his home in Connecticut.

Sondheim influenced several generations of theatre songwriters with his work, which included other musicals such as Company and Follies.

His ballad Send in the Clowns has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins, while six of his musicals won Tony Awards for best score. He also received a Pulitzer Prize for Sunday in the Park with George.

The composer won an Academy Award for the song Sooner or Later, from the film Dick Tracy, five Olivier Awards and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honour.

British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh, who named a venue after Sondheim in late 2019, said theatre had “lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers”.

In 2010, when the Henry Miller Theatre in New York was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, he said he was “thrilled, but deeply embarrassed”.

Sondheim added he had “always hated my last name”, insisting: “It just doesn’t sing.”

In an interview less than a week before his death, Sondheim spoke of his determination to keep working.

“What else am I going to do?” he said. “I’m too old now to do a lot of travelling, I’m sorry to say. What else would I do with my time but write?”

Ahead of the release of a film adaptation of West Side Story, for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics, he said the big-screen version — directed by Steven Spielberg — was “just great”, adding there would be “surprises” for people who feel they know the musical.

© Press Association  

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