A little more than a week before a new, Steven Spielberg-directed version of West Side Story — one of his most famous works — is set to hit the big screen, composer Stephen Sondheim has died. The giant of musical theater died Friday at his home in Roxbury, CT. He was 91.
Marianne Elliott, the director of the current Broadway revival of Company, Sondheim’s 1970 musical, tweeted, “We have lost the Shakespeare of musical theater. He was the most generous collaborator with the greatest spirit. The joy of working with him was that he knew theater could and should evolve with time. He was always open to the new.”
Considered one of the most influential composers and lyricists of the 20th century, Sondheim’s works included A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, West Side Story, Gypsy, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sunday In the Park with George, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and many more.
Five of his shows won the Tony for best musical, while six won the Tony for best original score. Sunday In the Park with George won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Sondheim’s accolades also included eight Grammys, plus an Oscar for writing “Sooner or Later,” which Madonna recorded for the soundtrack of the movie Dick Tracy.
In 1993, Sondheim won the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2015, President Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2010, a Broadway theater was renamed in his honor.
Among the stars paying tribute to Sondheim on social media: Barbra Streisand, Hugh Jackman, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Elaine Paige, Lea Salonga and Josh Groban.
In a statement to ABC News, Steven Spielberg, whose new take on West Side Story opens December 9, said, “Stephen Sondheim was a gigantic figure in American culture — one of our country’s greatest songwriters, a lyricist and composer of real genius, and a creator of some of the most glorious musical dramas ever written.”
“Steve and I became friends only recently, but we became good friends and I was surprised to discover that he knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met,” the filmmaker added. “I will miss him very much, but he left a body of work that has taught us, and will keep teaching us, how hard and how absolutely necessary it is to love.”
According to the New York Times, Sondheim is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017, and a half-brother, Walter Sondheim.