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Tributes paid to composer Stephen Sondheim who has died aged 91

The US lyricist and composer is best known for works including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd.

File image of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
File image of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Image: Kirsty Wigglesworth

LEGENDARY BROADWAY SONGWRITER Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

Sondheim – a US lyricist and composer best known for works including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly in his home yesterday.

Musical celebrities have paid tribute to Sondheim, who was described as having “fundamentally shifted an entire art form”.

Lyricist Tim Rice described him as a “master musical man”, while Phantom Of The Opera composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said he was a “musical theatre giant”.

Others paying tribute included English singer Elaine Paige, who starred in the 2011 Broadway run of Sondheim’s musical Follies.

She tweeted: “Devastated to hear one of the most important musical theatre giants of our generation, #StephenSondheim, has died.

“I was lucky enough to have performed in two of his shows @FolliesBroadway & Sweeney Todd, & also have a song co-written by him for my 50th Anniversary.

“RIP dear man.”

Lloyd Webber wrote: “Farewell Steve, the musical theatre giant of our times, an inspiration not just to two but to three generations.

Your contribution to theatre will never be equalled.

Rice said: “RIP Stephen Sondheim, master musical man.

“His words for West Side Story alone would have guaranteed him theatrical immortality but there was so much more.

“He bestrode songwriting like a Colossus.”

Singer and actress Barbra Streisand, whose The Broadway Album featured lyrics written by Sondheim, tweeted: “Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics! May he Rest In Peace.”

Actor Hugh Jackman, star of The Greatest Showman, said: “Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those.

As millions mourn his passing I also want to express my gratitude for all he has given to me and so many more.

“Sending my love to his nearest and dearest.”

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel said: “Goodbye dear sir. We will spend our lives trying to make you proud.”

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Born in 1930 in New York City, Sondheim was involved in musical theatre from an early age.

He started playing piano at age seven and was family friends with Oscar Hammerstein II, half of the famed musical theater writing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Sondheim’s first professional writing job was for the television comedy Topper in the 1950s. He also wrote crossword puzzles for New York Magazine from 1968 to 1969, which contributed to his writing style and sense of theatrical misdirection.

His breakthrough on Broadway came with West Side Story in 1957, quickly followed by Gypsy two years later.

West Side Story was adapted into a film twice, first in 1961, starring Rita Moreno. The second, due to be released in early December, stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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