The legendary and beloved composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died at age 91 on Friday, November 26. He leaves behind 12 Broadway musicals and legions of devotees.
He began collecting 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 preview of the Broadway revival of his classic Company (1970), starring Patti LuPone and Katrina Lenk, and the Off-Broadway revival of Assassins (1990), an ensemble work by Classic Stage Company.
Though he was frailer with age, Sondheim’s death was unexpected. Spontaneous tributes quickly formed, in piano bars across the country and at Times Square, the heart of Broadway’s Theater District.
In honor of his passing, we share these PBS programs and segments that showcase Sondheim’s musical genius in performance and Sondheim himself in a PBS NewsHour interview, describing his famous rhymes and approach to lyric writing.
THIRTEEN will broadcast an encore of Live at Lincoln Center – New York Philharmonic: Celebrating Sondheim on Sunday, December 5, at 9 p.m.
Live at Lincoln Center – New York Philharmonic: Celebrating Sondheim
In 2019, the New York Philharmonic celebrated the dazzling orchestral world of Stephen Sondheim in a program hosted by Bernadette Peters, with special guest vocalist Katrina Lenk (Tony Award winner for The Band’s Visit and now in Company). Conducted by Alexander Gemignani – both a musical actor and music director – the concert featured some of Sondheim’s most beloved works, including suites from Sunday in the Park, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Company and Assassins. Broadway icon Peters provides context for the music and productions between pieces. Stream the entire Celebrating Sondheim episode.
Conductors Talk Sondheim
In a special half-hour feature from Live at Lincoln Center, father and son conductors Alexander and Paul Gemignani talk about conducting Sondheim music in advance of son Alexander conducting for Live at Lincoln Center – New York Philharmonic: Celebrating Sondheim.
“He is a poet first,” says Paul Gemignani about Sondheim, adding, he “is one of the most generous collaborators.” Paul had a 40-year career as a musical director on Broadway and in West End theater in London and worked on many Sondheim musicals. Alexander, who grew up in Tenafly, NJ, met Sondheim as a child when his father was conducting Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The father and son share jokes but also get serious about conducting one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
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 crafts his lyrics (he thinks of each line as a scene) and the significant role of rhyme. Rounding out the tribute is Ben Brantley, former co-chief theater critic of The New York Times and Eric Schaffer, the co-founder and former artistic director of Signature Theater in Virginia, in conversation with PBS NewsHour’s William Brangham.
Poetry in America: Finishing the Hat, by Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim is widely hailed as the greatest modern American musical theater composer. Poetry in America series creator Elisa New speaks with Broadway stage actors and writer Adam Gopnik to explore Sondheim’s singular ability to blend lyrics and music, using “Finishing the Hat,” from Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park with George, as their case study. Watch the episode now with the member benefit Passport.
On Sunday, November 28, fans and Broadway luminaries gathered at Times Square in New York City to pay tribute to Stephen Sondheim. Watch them sing “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George, below:
Gothamist reported on the event and included tributes from social media as well.
Join a Theater Community on Facebook
The PBS arts showcase Great Performances offers a virtual community space on Facebook for people with strong opinions about theater. Since Stephen Sondheim’s passing, people have shared their memories of watching a Sondheim show and more tributes. This Facebook group is where fans come together for spirited conversations about favorite shows, performers, and all things Broadway (and off). Join the group, Broadway’s Best for Great Performances.