With the highly anticipated film version of his classic musical Into the Woods filming and photos from the set of stars like Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, and Johnny Depp leaking along the way, Stephen Sondheim is getting some serious attention these days. Not that he hasn’t before; he is quite possibly the definitive musical theatre composer of our time. But the big screen adaptation of his fractured fairy tale story will bring his genius to an even wider audience (as did the 2007 Sweeney Todd film).
But even theatre buffs who are well schooled in his extensive body of essential musicals may not know all of these fun facts about Mr. Sondheim. Test your knowledge of the king of American musical theatre with these interesting tidbits of information.
1. He’s more associated with the Tonys, but he has *8* Grammys. – Sondheim has won for the cast albums to his musicals, like Sweeney Todd and Company, and he also won Song of the Year for “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music in 1975.
2. He’s had some real flops. – Though most of his shows have been very successful and endured the test of time, projects such as Merrily We Roll Along (recently presented at New York’s City Center), tanked at their premieres. He also co-wrote a straight play with George Furth, Getting Away with Murder, which only played 17 performances before closing on Broadway.
3. He has his own society. – The Stephen Sondheim Society was created to promote and create greater appreciation for his work. Patrons include Barbara Cook (The Music Man) and Bernadette Peters (Into the Woods) as well as producer Cameron Mackintosh (Phantom of the Opera).
4. He’s American, but he has dominated in England, too. – In addition to his many Tonys, he has won 6 Olivier Awards for West End productions of his musicals, including Follies and even Merrily We Roll Along, which obviously fared much better overseas.
5. There are at least 7 anthologies of his work. – As early as 1976 with Side by Side by Sondheim, his work was being collected and presented in revue form. Later collections of his work include Putting it Together (1993) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).
6. He won an Oscar for a song performed by Madonna. – Sondheim wrote the score for 1990’s Dick Tracy, and the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man),” performed by Madonna in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Song.
7. He has a decade-long connection with Anna Kendrick. – Sondheim had a cameo role in the film Camp in 1993, which starred an 18-year-old Anna Kendrick. 10 years later, Kendrick is filming the screen adaptation of Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. Fate? I think so.
8. He was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II. – At about 10 years old, Sondheim became friends with Oscar Hammerstein’s son, James. After his parents’ divorce, Sondheim looked to Hammerstein as a surrogate father and learned a great deal from him about musical theatre. The rest is history.
9. Every episode of Desperate Housewives was named for his work. – If you watched Desperate Housewives online, saw the episode info on your television’s guide, or own the DVDs, maybe you caught this pattern. Series creator Marc Cherry is a big Sondheim fan, so he named each episode for his song titles or lyrics.
10. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner. – Sondheim’s 1985 musical Sunday in the Park with George, inspired by the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat and one of his most autobiographical pieces, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of only a handful of musicals to achieve this honor.
11. He’s the only living composer with a quarterly journal on his work. – In publication since 1994, The Sondheim Review has subscribers in more than 25 countries, which proves how widely recognized and acclaimed Sondheim is, even outside the English-speaking world.