All the Words, All the Lessons: How to Choose a Farewell Tribute for Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the critically acclaimed and enormously popular composer and lyricist of the Broadway musicals “Into the Woods” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” died Sunday at the age of 84.

It is clear in the wake of his death that Sondheim was one of the defining figures of 20th century music as we know it. He wrote five Pulitzer Prize winning musicals, including “Company,” which was named to the National Recording Registry in 2007.

He began with “Pacific Overtures,” which was based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. His next three musicals were adaptations of books and movies, “Wonderful Town,” “Company,” and “Gypsy.” His adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” became his sixth Pulitzer Prize winning musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” based on an ancient Greek comedy.

Sondheim wrote six new compositions for his 2006 album, “Romance.” He also provided the music for the 2001 film “Into the Woods,” which received five Oscar nominations. “Lucky Guy” starring Tom Hanks and Julianne Moore won Sondheim an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for “My Favorite Things.”

Sondheim’s theatrical works are known for their clever lyrics and poetic setting of classic stories, so much so that “Into the Woods” was described by New York Magazine as “Broadway through the mists of time.”

In the wake of Sondheim’s passing, I sought to make sense of his work and try to encapsulate his work in a simple two-sentence epitaph.

In his own words, Sondheim wrote:

“Perfectionist. Genius. Icon. That was Stephen Sondheim.”

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