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National Theatre Blog

Stephen Sondheim 1930 - 2021

Image of Stephen Sondheim

We are profoundly sad to hear of the death of Stephen Sondheim, the legendary composer and lyricist, whose relationship with the National Theatre spanned several decades.  

The first Sondheim show to be staged by the NT was Sunday in the Park with George in 1990, and his work was staged during each subsequent decade, with Dominic Cooke’s award-winning revival of Follies being the most recent, opening in 2017 and revived in 2019. 

Rufus Norris, Director of the NT, said:  

'"The news that Stephen Sondheim has gone is a profound shock, and a huge loss to our theatrical world. He felt like an immortal giant of our culture, with his astute intelligence and keen observation undimmed by the decades in which he evolved the musical theatre form with astonishing craft, fearlessness and imagination.  

Productions of his peerless work at the National Theatre were numerous: Follies, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park, A Funny Thing Happened, Candide and A Little Night Music, each of them beloved and celebrated, each made with his brilliant eye and exacting ear nearby. The NT was in many ways his London home, but such was his prowess in the form that he had homes everywhere. His immortality, of course, is in the incredible work he leaves behind and the immeasurable influence he has had. In the form of the musical, the National Theatre has never known a greater artist, and it has been a privilege as a theatre-maker and audience member to grow up in the Sondheim era."

Dominic Cooke, director of Follies at the NT said:

"After the first preview of Follies at the NT, Stephen Sondheim told me that this was the first time he had ever really understood the characters. I could have exploded with pride, but in truth, directing the show was unexpectedly easy. The relationship between form and content was so seamless that our task was simply to pay attention to what Steve had done and deliver it onstage. Every note, every pause, every musical shift told us precisely where the character was emotionally and psychologically in the scene. I realised working on the show that Sondheim was a dramatic storyteller at the level of Shakespeare or Mozart. He was also a determined investigator of what it means to be alive; restless, endlessly inquisitive and never satisfied. His unique spirit leaves a massive void in our theatre culture, but what a legacy he’s given us."


Portrait of Stephen Sondheim by Rex Features