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Modern Era: Stephen Sondheim

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David Ben-Arie

on 29 April 2015

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Transcript of Modern Era: Stephen Sondheim

The Early Years
In Sondheim's early years, he studied piano seriously in prep school while Hammerstein tutored him in writing for theatre. With Hammerstein's guidance, he wrote scripts and scores for four shows, a project that occupied Sondheim through his years at Williams College. When he graduated, he was awarded a two-year scholarship to study composition. He studied with the renowned composer Milton Babbit, writing a piano concerto and a violin sonata while still trying to bring his work to theatre. Sondheim's first efforts at getting his work on Broadway fell through, but he found work writing for television, and met two playwrights who would change his career forever: Arthur Laurents and Burt Shevelove.
Sondheim's Boom on Broadway Begins
Although Sondheim wanted to write both music and lyrics, his first couple of assignments were either one or the other. For his first job, he wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's smash hit musical, "West Side Story". After the success of West Side Story in 1957, he won a second lyric-writing assignment for the Broadway musical Gypsy. And finally, the credit "Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim" appeared on Broadway for the first time in 1962. The show, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", was an unqualified success, and introduced the first of Sondheim's tunes to become a show business standard, "Comedy Tonight."
Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in New York City. His father, Herbert Sondheim, was a successful dress manufacturer, his mother, Janet Fox, a fashion designer. Young Stephen was given piano lessons from an early age, and showed a distinct aptitude for music, puzzles and mathematics. His parents divorced when he was only ten, and Stephen, an only child, was taken by his mother to live on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The area had attracted a number of well-known personalities from the New York theater world; a close neighbor was the playwright, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, who had a son Stephen's age.
Early Times
Stephen Sondheim
(March 22, 1930-Present Day

Modern Era
By: David Ben-Arie

Stephen Sondheim and Jimmy Hammerstein soon became friends, and Stephen saw Jimmy's dad, Oscar Hammerstein II as a role model. At the time, Hammerstein started his companionship with composer Richard Rodgers. When Sondheim was in his teens, Rodgers and Hammerstein were enjoying their ongoing success with the hit shows Oklahoma! and South Pacific. Sondheim decided he wanted to take a crack at it too.
Sondheim's Segway into Success
Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince
Stephen Sondheim developed a friendship and partnership with director, Harold Prince. Sondheim made a historic breakthrough as both composer and lyricist with Company (1971), a caustic look at love and marriage in contemporary New York City. The show marked a sharp break with Broadway's past, and established Sondheim as the most inventive and daring composer working in the musical theater. "Company" was Sondheim's first collaboration with director Harold Prince, who had produced both "West Side Story" and "Forum".
Major Works By Sondheim
Sweeney Todd
Pacific Overtures
A Little Night Music
Sunday in The Park With George
Into the Woods
"Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos."
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