CHRISTOPHER STEVENS looks back at the career of Stephen Sondheim

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS looks back at the career of Stephen Sondheim
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS looks back at the career of Stephen Sondheim

Tributes poured in last night for Stephen Sondheim, the genius behind some of Broadway's greatest musicals who has died aged 91.

After scoring his first major hit with West Side Story aged just 27, Sondheim went on to delight New York audiences over six decades.

The writer of Send In The Clowns and Broadway Baby passed away suddenly at his home in Connecticut early yesterday morning, his friend and lawyer F Richard Pappas said.

Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute to the 'musical theatre giant of our times' who had inspired three generations.

Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of Cats and Les Miserables, said: 'The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers. Sadly, there is now a giant in the sky.'

Elaine Paige, who starred in the 2011 Broadway run of Follies, called him 'one of the most important musical theatre giants of our generation', while actor Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in Disney's Frozen, compared him to Shakespeare, tweeting: 'Not since April 23rd of 1616 has theatre lost such a revolutionary voice.'

Here the Daily Mail's Christopher Stevens looks back at the career of one of America's greatest songwriters...

Theatres around the world will be dimming their lights in salute to Stephen Sondheim, the most influential figure of the modern stage. Hearing the news, Broadway star Josh Gad compared Sondheim, on Twitter, to Shakespeare.

That's scarcely an exaggeration, or even original – in 2017, the New York Times placed him beside not only the Bard, but Picasso and Dickens too.

From West Side Story to his fairytale extravaganza Into the Woods, he created some of the most memorable musical theatre of all. And he did it without diluting his principles or selling out his talent. Rooted in the avant garde, he used modern jazz and innovations in classical music to treat stage musicals as serious art.

Stephen Sondheim, with stars including Meryl Streep at the premiere of Into the Woods

Stephen Sondheim, with stars including Meryl Streep at the premiere of Into the Woods

The Oxford Companion to Popular Music noted archly, 30 years ago, that Sondheim 'moves in an area that bears little relation to the goings-on of the pop world that Andrew Lloyd Webber lends an ear to'.

His tireless determination to experiment and to challenge audiences with complex scores meant that many of his shows were not immediate box office triumphs, or even critical successes in his youth. But by the time of his death yesterday, he was regarded as far and away the most significant composer of his generation.

Most of the timeless entries in the Great American Songbook needed two writers, a tunesmith and a lyricist – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, or George and Ira Gershwin, for example.

Sondheim worked alone. But he achieved his first success with words only, supplying the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side

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