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Frequently Asked Questions

Written by and David Levy.

1 Biographical Information

1.1 Who is Stephen Sondheim?

Stephen Joshua Sondheim is a composer / lyricist for the musical theatre who has also dabbled in teaching, screen writing, composing film scores, creating crossword puzzles for New York Magazine, and authoring plays. He was born on March 22, 1930 and is alive and actively pursuing his career. He has never been married and he has no children.

1.2 Early Life

His parents divorced when he was rather young, and he grew up in rural Pennsylvania with his mother. He became very close to a neighboring family, the Hammersteins. Oscar Hammerstein II (of the songwriting team Rodgers and Hammerstein) became a surrogate father to young Sondheim. It was through Oscar Hammerstein II that Sondheim first became involved in theatre, although he later said that he so looked up to Hammerstein that he "would have become a geologist if Oscar had been a geologist."

He attended the George School, where he wrote his first musical, By George, parodying the school's denizens. He proudly showed the script to his mentor and asked him to review it as if it was a musical written by a stranger. Hammerstein reviewed it and pronounced it the worst thing he had ever read. He said it wasn't untalented, just bad, and he proceeded to go through the script line by line with Sondheim. Sondheim has said that he learned more about writing musicals in that one afternoon than most people learn in a lifetime. Hammerstein then outlined a course of studies for Sondheim, having him write four musicals in order to learn the craft. Sondheim complied, working on this project throughout his years at Williams College, where he majored in music, a choice greatly influenced by a sensational music professor named Robert Barrow. After his years at Williams, Sondheim went to New York to study music with Milton Babbitt.

1.3 Professional Life

Sondheim's professional life began as the composer/lyricist for the musical Saturday Night, which was to be produced by Lemuel Ayers. Unfortunately, the show ran into a slew of problems and was left unproduced. After Saturday Night was disbanded, Sondheim happened to run into Arthur Laurents at a party (they had met previously when Sondheim had auditioned to write songs for a musicalization of James M. Cain's Serenade). Laurents mentioned that he, Jerome Robbins, and Leonard Bernstein were adapting Romeo and Juliet, but they didn't have a lyricist. Laurents invited Sondheim to audition for Bernstein. Although Sondheim was disappointed that his first professional job would be writing only the lyrics, he accepted the position. The rest is history...

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