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Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim (born March 22, 1930) is a composer and lyricist of musicals.

He was born in New York City and at about the age of ten he became friends with the son of lyricist/playwright Oscar Hammerstein II, who taught Sondheim the basics of the musical when Sondheim came to him with a show he had written for a school performance. Hammerstein's reaction was negative, but he saw Sondheim's potential. As a training exercise, Hammerstein told Sondheim to write four musicals:

  • A musical based on a good play (which became All That Glitters)
  • A musical based on a bad play (which became High Tor)
  • A musical based on an existing novel or short story not previously dramatized (which became Mary Poppins)
  • An original musical (which became Climb High)

None of these "assignment" musicals was produced professionally. High Tor and Mary Poppins have never been produced at all, because the rights holders for the original works refused to grant permission for a musical to be made.

Sondheim went on to study composition with the composer Milton Babbitt. In 1954, he wrote both music and lyrics for Saturday Night, which was never produced on Broadway and was shelved until a 1997 production at London's Bridewell Theatre[?].

At the age of 25 Sondheim wrote the lyrics to West Side Story, accompanying Leonard Bernstein's music and Arthur Laurents's book. In 1959 he wrote the lyrics to the musical Gypsy, which had music by Jule Styne and a book again by Laurents. Finally in 1962 Sondheim saw a musical for which he wrote both the music and lyrics, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, open on Broadway. His next musical, Anyone Can Whistle, was a financial failure, though it has developed a cult following. He subsequently wrote lyrics only to one more show, Do I Hear a Waltz?[?], with music by Richard Rodgers, and from then on has provided both music and lyrics to a series of critically acclaimed musicals.

Table of contents

Major Works Unless otherwise noted, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Minor Works


  • By George, a musical Sondheim wrote at age 15 lampooning the denizens of George School[?], which he attended at the time.
  • Phinney's Rainbow, a musical satire on college life that Sondheim wrote at age 18 lampooning the denizens of Williams College, which he attended at the time.
  • All That Glitters (1948), based on Beggar on Horseback by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly.
  • Climb High (1951), an original musical about a college student moving to New York City to become an actor.
  • Additional lyrics for the 1974 revival of Candide.
  • The Frogs (1974), a musical version of Aristophanes' play performed in the Yale University swimming pool.
  • Getting Away With Murder, a "comedy thriller" (non-musical play), co-written with George Furth.

Film / TV

  • Topper (circa 1953), a non-musical television comedy series for which Sondheim wrote about ten episodes.
  • Evening Primrose (1966), a made-for-TV musical about a secret society of people living in department stores and the romance between Ella, a department store denizen, and Charles, a poet who decides to live in the department store after renouncing the world.
  • The Last of Sheila (1973), a nonmusical film mystery written with Anthony Perkins.
  • "The Madam's Song", also called "I Never Do Anything Twice", for the film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. (1976).
  • The score for Alain Resnais's film Stavisky...[?] (1974).
  • Five songs for Warren Beatty's film Dick Tracy (1990).

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