Stephen Sondheim

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Stephen Sondheim wrote a film script, The Last of Sheila (1973), with Anthony Perkins. He has composed music for films as well. He wrote the scores for Stavisky (1974) and Reds (1981) and songs for Dick Tracy (1990) and The Birdcage (1996). However, Sondheim’s reputation is based primarily on his music and lyrics for Broadway-style musicals.


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Stephen Sondheim was the most critically acclaimed figure in American musical theater during the last three decades of the twentieth century. Sondheim has won the Tony Award for Best Original Score five times, more than any other individual. These awards were for Follies (1972), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Into the Woods (1988), and Passion (1994). In 1971 only, separate Tonys were awarded for score and lyrics, and Sondheim won both for Company. Numerous plays on which Sondheim has collaborated have won Tony Awards and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical; these awards were not presented specifically to Sondheim. Sunday in the Park with George won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Sondheim turned down the National Medal of Arts in 1992 in protest because the National Endowment for the Arts, the granting agency, had canceled some of its more controversial grants. He accepted that award in 1997.


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Banfield, Steve. Sondheim’s Broadway Musicals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. The work focuses on Sondheim’s background and career. The volume contains a song index and source list. The chapter discussions feature musicals from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to Into the Woods.

Block, Geoffrey. “Happily Ever After: West Side Story with Sondheim.” In Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from “Show Boat” to Sondheim. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This chapter places Sondheim in the context of the musical theater, arguing that his work is the culmination of the form’s development since the late 1920’s. The earlier chapters provide a useful history of musical theater.

Goodhart, Sandor, ed. Reading Stephen Sondheim: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 2000. The essays in this volume, written by literary critics, treat Sondheim with the seriousness afforded other twentieth century playwrights. The essays range from general treatments to explorations of specific features of the plays.

Gordon, Joanne. Art Isn’t Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Gordon’s academic study of Sondheim’s works through Into the Woods includes production photographs, extensive endnotes, and a bibliography.

Gordon, Joanne, ed. Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997. A compilation of fourteen essays, assessing various Sondheim musicals.

Gottfried, Martin. Sondheim. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993. This large-page album features full-color photographs and a sampling of Sondheim lyrics. Gottfried discusses beginning works through Assassins.

Lipton, James. “The Art of the Musical.” The Paris Review 39 (Spring, 1997): 258-278. The article excerpts Lipton’s interview with Sondheim at the New School in New York City, which aired as an Inside the Actors’ Studio episode on Bravo Network.

Secrest, Meryle. Stephen Sondheim: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. Secrest’s detailed biography explores the influential forces in the composer’s life and career.

Zadan, Craig. Sondheim and Co. 2d ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1986. Zadan examines Sondheim’s career and includes photographs and testimonials from collaborators and colleagues.

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Critical Essays