Andrew Lloyd Webber remembers ‘peerless’ musical theatre giant Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim (PA) (PA Archive)
Stephen Sondheim (PA) (PA Archive)

Andrew Lloyd Webber has remembered Stephen Sondheim as a “peerless” and “extraordinary” “titan of musical theatre” after the composer of musical classics such as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd died aged 91.

Lord Lloyd-Webber admitted he was “always in awe” of the US musical theatre giant, who also wrote the lyrics to West Side Story, and revealed the pair had once discussed working together but it never came about.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A Little Night Music is a masterpiece. It’s one of the pieces I go back to play again and again.

Andrew Lloyd Webber (Nigel French/PA) (PA Wire)
Andrew Lloyd Webber (Nigel French/PA) (PA Wire)

“It’s so brilliant, all in three-four waltz time but after a while you don’t notice that conceit, because music is so brilliant.

“So many, many will focus on his lyrics because they are peerless, but for me as a composer, I just think his work was, was really extraordinary.”

He added: “Sondheim was an absolute genius. And the New York Times rightly this morning calls him a titan of musical theatre. And that’s the only word I can think of.”

Discussing their personal relationship, Lord Lloyd-Webber said: “I didn’t know him all that well. I had a wonderful lunch with him once, I remember, at the Neal Street restaurant in the late 70s, where we actually talked about doing something together – it was going to be about rivalry – which never got anywhere.

“The last time I saw him was at Hal Prince’s (Sondheim’s long-time collaborator) memorial and we had a chat backstage and I don’t know, I was sort of in awe of him always.”

A host of famous faces have expressed their sadness and said they were lucky to have worked with Sondheim.

Lyricist Sir Tim Rice described him as a “master musical man” while director Steven Spielberg said he was “a gigantic figure in American culture”.

Others paying tribute included English singer Elaine Paige, who starred in the 2011 Broadway run of Sondheim’s Follies.

She tweeted: “Devastated to hear one of the most important musical theatre giants of our generation, #StephenSondheim, has died

“I was lucky enough to have performed in two of his shows @FolliesBroadway & Sweeney Todd, & also have a song co-written by him for my 50th Anniversary. RIP dear man.”

Sir Tim said: “RIP Stephen Sondheim, master musical man.

“His words for West Side Story alone would have guaranteed him theatrical immortality but there was so much more.

“He bestrode songwriting like a Colossus.”

Barbra Streisand, whose The Broadway Album featured lyrics written by Sondheim, tweeted: “Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics! May he Rest In Peace.”

Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those

Actor Hugh Jackman

Spielberg, who is directing the new film adaptation of West Side Story, said Sondheim was “one of our country’s greatest songwriters, a lyricist and composer of real genius, and a creator of some of the most glorious musical dramas ever written”.

In a statement reported by ABC News he said the pair had become friends recently and he “knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met”.

He added: “When we spoke, I couldn’t wait to listen, awestruck by the originality of his perceptions of art, politics and people – all delivered brilliantly by his mischievous wit and dazzling words.

“I will miss him very much, but he left a body of work that has taught us, and will keep teaching us, how hard and how absolutely necessary it is to love.”

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted: “Stephen Sondheim was real. Yes, he wrote Tony & Maria AND Sweeney Todd AND Bobby AND George & Dot AND Fosca AND countless more.

“Some may theorize Shakespeare’s works were by committee but Steve was real & he was here & he laughed SO loud at shows & we loved him.”

Actor Hugh Jackman, star of The Greatest Showman, said: “Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those.

“As millions mourn his passing I also want to express my gratitude for all he has given to me and so many more.”

Singer and actress Anna Kendrick said: “I was just talking to someone a few nights ago about how much fun (and f****** difficult) it is to sing Stephen Sondheim.

Barbra Streisand, whose album The Broadway Album featured lyrics written by Sondheim, praised his ‘wonderful’ music and lyrics (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Barbra Streisand, whose album The Broadway Album featured lyrics written by Sondheim, praised his ‘wonderful’ music and lyrics (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

“Performing his work has been among the greatest privileges of my career. A devastating loss.”

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel said: “Goodbye dear sir. We will spend our lives trying to make you proud.”

Fellow Tony winner Lea Salonga, who performed in last year’s concert to mark Sondheim’s birthday, tweeted: “Rest In Peace, Stephen Sondheim, and thank you for your vast contributions to musical theater.

“We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts.”

She said Sondheim’s brilliance “will still be here as his legendary songs and shows will be performed for ever more”

Comedian David Baddiel paid tribute on Twitter with a link to the song Sorry-Grateful, from the musical Company, saying: “The thing about Sondheim is he raised lyrics to the same level of emotional and psychological complexity as the novel.”

Musical theatre star Carrie Hope Fletcher quoted Sondheim’s Into the Woods in her tribute: “Oh, if life were made of moments. Even now and then a bad one. But if life were only moments. Then you’d never know you had one!

“A genius, a giant, a hero. Farewell, Sondheim.”

Actress Frances Barber described him as “an icon” and said it was “really the end of an era”.

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