Stephen Sondheim

Johnny Mercer Award

Sondheim… the name be-speaks theatrical excite-ment and applause. He is one of the singularly gifted within the ranks of the Broadway musical elite, a man who has spent his entire career making wonderful music. While 1975 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Stephen Sondheim may be best known in the public view as a Broadway composer, his musical skills actually go far beyond that rather limited sphere.

Sondheim has written prolifically and profusely for motion pictures, television dramas, and background songs and scores for legitimate theater, in addition to his extensive catalog of Broadway scores. In fact, Sondheim is one of the very few tunesmiths to have garnered both Tony awards and Oscars for his multi-directional output, not to mention literally countless other accolades for his unique talents.

Stephen Sondheim was born in 1930 and raised in New York City. He graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, MA, where he began a lifetime of award winning, taking down the renowned Hutchinson Prize for Music Composition, following which he studied theory and composition with Milton Babbitt.

Sondheim’s creativity came into play soon after departing from college when he wrote lyrics for such highly skilled composers as Leonard Bernstein (“West Side Story”), and Jule Styne (“Gypsy”) within the two-year span of 1957 to 1959. Soon thereafter, in 1962, came one of Sondheim’s most notable successes, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in which he created both the music and lyrics. The show was a huge success at the time and an almost equally successful revival recently completed its run on Broadway.

Two years later, a virtually unending series of successful musicals featuring both music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, began their collective run extending well into the ‘90s. Beginning in 1964 with “Anyone Can Whistle,” the list includes “Follies,” “A Little Night Music.” “The Frogs,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods,”“Assassins,” “Passion” and “Company.”

During the 30-year run which features a major Broadway entry approximately once every three years, he was also the lyricist for “Do I Hear a Waltz” and “Candide” and organized revue-style anthologies of his works for such Broadway presentations as “Side by Side by Sondheim,” “Marry Me a Little.” “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” and “Putting It Together.”

Again, during the same immensely productive 30-year span. Sondheim addressed the motion picture field, composing scores for “Stavisky” and “Reds” and songs for “Dick Tracy,” one of which, “Sooner or Later” won the Academy Award in 1990 for Best Song. For television, he wrote songs for “Evening Primrose,” co-authored the film, “The Last of Sheila” and provided incidental music for the plays “The Girls of Summer,” “Invitation to a March” and “Twigs.”

Sondheim is the owner of five Tony Awards (Best Score for a Musical) for “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd.” “A Little Night Music,” “Follies” and “Company.” All these shows also won New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, as did “Pacific
Overtures” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” the latter also receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by
James Lapine.

Stephen Sondheim is also on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, the National Association of Playwrights. Composers and Lyricists, and served as its president from 1973 to 1981. In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1990, he was appointed the first visiting professor of Contemporary Theater at Oxford University. In 1993, he was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center honors.