Christina Chevalier | November 29, 2021
Legendary and beloved composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim passed away at the age of 91 on Friday, November 26. He leaves behind 12 Broadway musicals and legions of devotees.
He started collecting the Tony Awards with his music and lyrics for A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, named Best Musical in 1962. Earlier this month, Sondheim attended the premiere of the Broadway revival of his classic Society (1970), with Patti LuPone and Katrina Lenk, and the Off-Broadway cover of Assassins (1990), an ensemble work by the Classic Stage Company.
Although he is more fragile with age, Sondheim’s death was unexpected. Spontaneous tributes quickly formed, in piano bars across the country and in Times Square, the heart of Broadway’s theater district.
In honor of his passing, we share these PBS programs and segments that feature the musical genius of Sondheim in performance and Sondheim himself in a PBS NewsHour interview, describing his famous nursery rhymes and his approach to lyric writing.
Live at Lincoln Center – New York Philharmonic: Sondheim Celebration
In 2019, the New York Philharmonic celebrated the dazzling orchestral world of Stephen Sondheim in a program hosted by Bernadette Peters, with special singer Katrina Lenk (winner of the Tony Award for The group’s visit and now in Society). Directed by Alexander Gemignani – both musical actor and musical director – the concert showcased some of Sondheim’s most beloved works, including sequels from Sunday at the park, In the woods, Sweeney Todd, Society and Assassins. The Broadway icon Peters provides the context for the music and the productions between the tracks. Distribute the entire Sondheim celebration episode.
Conductors speak Sondheim
In a special half-hour report from Living at Lincoln Center, father and son conductors Alexander and Paul Gemignani talk about conducting Sondheim’s music before their son Alexander conducted for Live at Lincoln Center – New York Philharmonic: Sondheim Celebration.
“He is first and foremost a poet”, says Paul Gemignani of Sondheim, adding that he “is one of the most generous collaborators”. Paul had a 40-year career as a musical director on Broadway and the West End Theater in London and worked on many Sondheim musicals. Alexander, who grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey, met Sondheim as a child when his father was conducting Sondheim’s play. In the woods. Father and son share jokes but also take the direction of one of the greatest composers of the 20th century seriously.
PBS NewsHour, November 26
On the day of his death, PBS NewsHour remembered Stephen Sondheim in a 10-minute segment. It includes Sondheim in 2010, describing how he works out his lyrics (he sees each line as a scene) and the important role of rhyme. Rounding out the tribute, Ben Brantley, former New York Times co-chief theater critic and Eric Schaffer, co-founder and former artistic director of Signature Theater in Virginia, in conversation with William Brangham of PBS NewsHour.
Poetry in America: Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim is widely hailed as the greatest composer of modern American musical theater. Poetry in America series creator Elisa New chats with Broadway stage actor and writer Adam Gopnik to explore Sondheim’s unique ability to blend lyrics and music, using “Finishing the Hat,” from the award-winning musical Sondheim Pulitzer Prize. Sunday at the park with George, like their case study. Watch the episode now with the Passport Member Benefit.
On Sunday, November 28, Broadway fans and luminaries gathered in Times Square in New York City to pay tribute to Stephen Sondheim. Watch them sing “Sunday” from Sunday at the park with George, below:
Gothamist reported on the event and also included tributes from social media.
Join a theater community on Facebook
The PBS Arts Showcase Great performance offers a virtual community space on Facebook for people with strong opinions about theater. Since Stephen Sondheim passed away, people have shared their memories of watching a Sondheim show and other tributes. This Facebook group is where fans come together for lively conversations about their favorite shows, performers, and all things Broadway (and off). Join the band, Broadway’s Best for Great Performances.