Stephen Sondheim, the composer, lyricist and Broadway icon who US President Barack Obama said reinvented the American musical has died at the age of 91.

As reported by The New York Times, Sondheim’s attorney and friend F. Richard Pappas announced the news of his death and said he had died at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He also noted that he “was not known that he was sick and that death was sudden. The day before, Mr. Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends.”

Image source: Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Image source: Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Sondheim’s impressive work includes Saturday Night, West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion and many more.

During his career he has received an Oscar, eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sunday in the Park with George, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama and was honored with the Kennedy Center.

Speaking of Obama, in his speech when he presented Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he summed up Sondheim’s contributions to Broadway and theater as a whole.

“As a composer and lyricist and a genre in itself, Sondheim challenges its audience,” said Obama. “His biggest hits aren’t tunes that you can hum; they’re reflections on paths we haven’t taken and desires that have gone wrong, relationships that are so frayed and broken that there is nothing left but that To send clowns.

“Still, Stephen’s music is so beautiful, his lyrics so precise, that although he exposes the imperfections of everyday life, he transcends them. We transcend them. Simply put, Stephen reinvented the American musical – the theater. “

What Obama said that Sondheim didn’t say “tunes that can be hummed” was a simplistic explanation of his style and why his words meant so much to so many. His lyrics were “by and large character-driven and often explored a psyche that expressed emotional ambivalence, fear, or deeply felt conflict.”

Sondheim was born in New York City on March 22, 1930, and fell in love with the theater at an early age. He wrote his first musical – By George – when he was about 14 years old. He would continue to hone his craft and graduate from Williams College magna cum laude and win the Hutchinson Prize, which enabled him to continue his music studies.

At the age of 20 he wrote his first professional musical – Saturday Night – which was itself an adaptation of Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein’s Front Porch in Flatbrush. While it was scheduled to premiere in 1955, its producer Lemuel Ayers died before he had raised enough money to complete it. The show didn’t make it to New York until 2000 when it opened on Off Broadway at the Second Stage Theater.

From there he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy and shortly thereafter his “greatest work began when Harold Prince became its director”. Together, they would help create five of Sondheim’s most classic musicals in the 1970s – Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and Sweeney Todd.

After “Merrily We Roll Along” in 1981, Sondheim and Prince put their creative partnership on hold for over 20 years, and that change resulted in Sondheim working closely with James Lapine. Together they created “the most witty works of Mr. Sondheim’s career,” including Into the Woods, Passion and Sunday in the Park with George.

The last major work he completed was The Road Show in 2008, a show for which he wrote the music and lyrics. He had many projects in the works including a new musical called Square One that he was working on with David Ives.

Sondheim leaves behind his husband Jeffrey Scott Romley. The two married in 2017.

Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and further Pull out.

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