March 22, 1930- Steven Sondheim was born in New York City. His parents, Etta Janet and Herbert Sondheim, gave birth to debatably the best lyricist and composer in American theater history. Sondheim had a lonely childhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He attended the private Quaker preparatory George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Here he wrote “By George!” his first of many musicals.

1940- Sondheim’s father left him and his mother at age ten. During the period of his parents’ divorce, he became friends with both Jimmy and Oscar Hammerstein. Oscar quickly took on the role of a father figure for Sondheim. Hammerstein critiqued Sondheim’s play “By George!” saying it was “the worst thing he had ever seen,” unaware that it was Sondheim’s play. Hammerstein trained Sondheim in having him write several plays: deriving from a play he admired, based on a play he thought was flawed, coming from an existing novel or short story not previously dramatized, and an original.

1950- Sondheim graduated from Williams College with magna cum laude status. From here, he went on to work with Milton Babbitt, a renowned composer. This is when Sondheim’s career truly began. However, his career struggled for the first few years, as he lived in Oscar’s dining room.

1954- Sondheim wrote both lyrics and music for “Saturday Night”, although it was never produced. This would have been Sondheim’s Broadway debut. However, when producer Lemuel Ayers died, the production of the show rapidly fell apart.
1957- Sondheim had his first big hit. He wrote the lyrics to “West Side Story”, as Leonard Bernstein composed the music. The show ran for 732 performances on Broadway, making Sondheim a Broadway sensation.

1959- Sondheim wrote the lyrics to “Gypsy”, his second Broadway musical. This show also ran for a long time on Broadway, totaling 702. Sondheim gained valuable experience writing for this musical, because he was writing for Broadway star Ethel Merman.

1962- Sondheim got his first chance to write both the lyrics and the music for a musical. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was a Broadway sensation, running for 964 performances. Sondheim did not receive a lot of credit for his work, for the musical won several Tony Awards, yet Sondheim did not receive a single nomination.

1964- Sondheim wrote the lyrics to “Anyone Can Whistle”. It was an enormous flop, with only 9 performances on Broadway. This faltered Sondheim’s extremely successful start to his career, as he had previously had three successful musicals until this one ruined his streak. The one benefit from this musical was that it introduced Angela Lansbury to the Broadway scene.

1970- Sondheim wrote the lyrics and music to “Company”, a musical that was unlike most musicals before. Instead of being based on a simple plot, director/producer Harold Prince (also a dear friend of Sondheim) based the musical off of the characters and themes. “Company” was the first of many musicals that Sondheim wrote with Prince.

1971-1981- During this time, he worked with his acquaintance Harold Prince for six musicals. Sondheim composed and wrote the lyrics to “Follies”, his second musical with Harold Prince. This musical took place at the Weismann Theatre, where chorus performers are reuniting in their honor. In 1973, Sondheim wrote “A Little Night Music,” based on the film “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Ingmar Bergman. This musical was critically acclaimed and Time magazine published an article about him and his work. Sondheim’s song “Send in the Clowns,” became his only top forty hit. “By Bernstein” only ran for fourteen days at an off-Broadway theatre. “Pacific Overtures” was un-orthodox musical for his usual works, exploring Japanese culture. “Sweeney Todd” premiered in 1976 and was major success and still popular today, although it is not performed on Broadway anymore. “Merrily We Roll Along” premiered in 1981. Carly Simon and Frank Sinatra both recorded songs from the musical, despite only having nineteen performances. This failure made Sondheim consider retiring from writing musicals.

1984- Sondheim began working with James Lapine and wrote “Sunday in the Park with George.” This was a success and earned them a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming one of only eight musicals to achieve the award. There was a Broadway revival of the show in 2008.

1987- Sondheim and Lapine produced “Into the Woods” which debuted on Broadway. This won the pair two Tony Awards, a Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical, despite premiering the same year as “Phantom of the Opera.”

1994- Sondheim wrote the lyrics to and composed the music for “Passion”. It debuted on Broadway on May 9, 1994, and lasted 7 months. It had a total of 280 performances. It also won the Tony Award for the Best Musical, along with numerous other prestigious awards.

1996- Sondheim took another attempt at playwriting, by collaborating with George Furth and creating “Getting Away with Murder”. The play was not a success, for the production closed after only 17 performances on Broadway.

2010- Sondheim published his first book, titled “Finishing the Hat”. It is a collection of his works from 1954-1981. In the book Sondheim discusses his relationship with Oscar Hammerstein, as well as his lyrics in every play and musical in that time frame. His second book, titled “Look, I Made a Hat: Volume Two”, is currently being worked on.

Jimmy Buckley
Lucas Munson
Kyle Hood