The Dramatists Guild mourns the loss of Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest musical theatre writers of our time, and a passionate member of the Guild for over 63 years. He joined in 1957 when working on West Side Story and served as DG Council President for eight years from 1973-1981.
Having benefitted as a young writer from the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II, Steve made it his life’s mission to pass that gift along. He mentored the careers of scores of writers and artists, including Jonathan Larson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Guettel, Amanda Green, and Jason Robert Brown, among others. He championed emerging writers and made it his business to see new work. Almost anyone who wrote to him could be assured of a reply back, on his thick creamy stationery, typed and with his distinguished hand signature.
To nurture and encourage the next generation of theatre writers, he founded the Young Playwrights Inc. in 1981, which identified and supported aspiring school age playwrights for more than 30 years. Its alumni include Jonathan Marc Sherman, Isaac Oliver, Lynn Nottage, Kenneth Lonergan, Stephen Karam, Julia Jarcho, Lucas Hnath, Lauren Gunderson, Keith Glover, Rebecca Gilman, Madeleine George, Halley Feiffer, Lucy Alibar, Zakiyyah Alexander, and many more.
He counted among his collaborators former DG President John Weidman (Pacific Overtures, Assassins, Road Show) and current DG Council Member James Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion). He was working on a new musical with former long-serving Council member David Ives at the time of his death. His legendary decades-long partnership with producer and director Harold Prince brought nine new musicals to the stage, in collaboration with Guild members including George Furth, Larry Gelbart, Arthur Laurents, Burt Shevelove, and Hugh Wheeler.
We thank him for his brilliance and his incalculable contributions to theatre, the exquisite shows and songs which will live on. But also for his profound generosity and his commitment to serving, protecting, and celebrating the craft, the well-being and livelihood of theatre writers, and to mentoring others. His memory and work are already a blessing. May his life be an example to us all.
The Dramatist will celebrate Sondheim’s life, work, and significant contributions to the Guild in an upcoming issue.
Related: Rhyme with Sondheim, Stephen Sondheim Legacy Profile