On November 16, performers from across Chicagoland come together on the Auditorium Theatre’s stage to salute living legend Stephen Sondheim. Chicago Celebrates Sondheim!, directed and produced by cabaret star Joan Curto, features selections from Sondheim’s illustrious career, from Company to Sunday in the Park with George and more. The iconic composer and lyricist turns 90 in early 2020, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the big 9-0 than with a full evening dedicated to Sondheim’s works!
1930: Stephen Sondheim is born on March 22 in New York City to parents Herbert Sondheim, a dress manufacturer, and Janet Fox “Foxy” Sondheim.
1937: Sondheim begins piano lessons.
1942: Sondheim’s parents get divorced, and he moves with his mother to Doylestown, PA. There, he becomes friends with his neighbor James Hammerstein, who happens to be the son of the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.
1945: Sondheim completes his first stage production By George!, a musical satire of his high school, at age 15. He asks Oscar Hammerstein to edit and evaluate this inaugural work.
1947: Hammerstein employs Sondheim as an assistant for Allegro, one of Hammerstein’s many theatre collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers.
1950: Sondheim graduates from Williams College in Massachusetts, where he majored in music. During his time in school, he assists with the rehearsals and productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. Awarded the Hutchinson Prize for Music Composition at his graduation, Sondheim is able to continue his musical studies with composer Milton Babbitt.
1953: Sondheim moves to Los Angeles to write scripts for the TV shows Topper and The Last Word.
1956: Sondheim returns to New York and composes incidental music for the Broadway play The Girls of Summer.
1957: West Side Story opens on Broadway, featuring Sondheim’s lyrics and composer Leonard Bernstein’s original score. This marks the beginning of Sondheim’s successes on Broadway.
1959: Gypsy opens on Broadway, with lyrics by Sondheim and music by composer Jule Styne. Ethel Merman stars in the role of Mama Rose.
1962: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim’s first show as both lyricist and composer, hits Broadway. The show runs for nearly 1,000 performances and wins the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1963.
1965: Sondheim writes the lyrics for Do I Hear a Waltz? to accompany Richard Rodgers’ score. This is his last show working solely as a lyricist.
1970: Sondheim’s Company, which features the memorable songs “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Getting Married Today,” debuts and blows critics away. Company wins Tony Awards for both Best Score and Best Musical in 1971.
1971: Follies, based on the Ziegfeld Follies theatrical revue, debuts on Broadway and runs for over 500 performances. Follies wins the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1972.
1973: Sondheim showcases his classical background with the score of A Little Night Music, which wins Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score in 1973. Its famous song “Send in the Clowns” is Sondheim’s first commercial hit, and has since been covered by Barbra Streisand, Judy Collins, and Sarah Vaughan & The Count Basie Orchestra, among others.
1976: Collaborating with Hal Prince as director, Sondheim produces Pacific Overtures, which utilizes Japanese art forms such as haikus and Japanese pentatonic scales. It is hailed for being a contemporary musical trailblazer.
1979: Sondheim collaborates again with Prince for Sweeney Todd. The production wins nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction, and Best Original Score.
1984: Sondheim and director-author James Lapine create Sunday in the Park with George, a musical based oµ of the painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by pointillist Georges Seurat (this painting currently resides at the Art Institute of Chicago just down the road!). In 1985, Sunday in the Park with George wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama — one of only nine musicals to win a Pulitzer.
1987: Another collaboration between Sondheim and Lapine, Into the Woods, hits the stage and receives much praise for its dark and witty retellings of familiar fairy tales. Lapine and Sondheim win Tony Awards in 1988 for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.
1990: Sondheim writes “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man),” performed and recorded by Madonna for the movie Dick Tracy. In 1991, it wins an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
2010: Sondheim on Sondheim, a self-told story of his inspirations, artistic process, and achievements, premieres on Broadway. It features new arrangements of Sondheim’s music that tell the story of his journey as one of musical theatre’s greatest composers.
2015: Sondheim is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2019: The Auditorium Theatre celebrates Sondheim’s 90th birthday on November 16, 2019 with Chicago Celebrates Sondheim! This tribute to Sondheim’s life and music will feature singers from across the city, accompanied by the Chicago Philharmonic performing Sondheim’s legendary compositions.