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We bid farewell to Stephen Sondheim 29

Published: 29 November 2021

We, along with the entire theatre industry, were saddened to hear of the passing of composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. Whether you are an avid theatre-goer or simply dip in to the odd show tune here and there, you will have heard his work. His big break was as lyricist on West Side Story in 1957, followed by Gypsy in 1959, but from then he predominantly wrote both lyrics and music for his shows, including Follies, Company, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and Passion. Here at the Open Air Theatre we have presented two of Sondheim’s musicals, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Into the Woods.

Timothy Sheader, Artistic Director of the Open Air Theatre, said:
“Stephen Sondheim was a genius. We all know that. But what put him on a higher plane to most was his generosity and eagerness to see his work live and pulsate with the creativity of others. He was delighted and thrilled to let the work be interpreted for a specific theatre, audience or time. Working on Into the Woods with him is a gift for which I will be forever grateful. Specifically his insightful, penetrating analysis of the vision. Rare to find such meaningful collaboration. I carry this experience into every new working relationship and always hope for similar conversation and inspiration.”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum takes inspiration from classical farces, with a slave attempting to achieve freedom by helping his master’s romantic pursuit of the girl next door. Directed by the then Artistic Director, Ian Talbot, the production earned an Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Musical Production, and featured comedian Roy Hudd as Pseudolus.

Despite the artistic success of Forum, it would be 11 years until our next Sondheim show, but when we did, it really captured people’s imagination and went on to become one of our most successful productions. Staged in 2010 to celebrate Sondheim’s 80th birthday, Into the Woods featured the now Emmy Award-winning Hannah Waddingham as the Witch, and Dame Judi Dench voiced The Giant. At the time it became our highest grossing production and went on to win Best Musical Revival at the Olivier Awards. Having seen the first preview, Sondheim himself championed that we film the production, and this is available to stream via Digital Theatre. But the story doesn’t end there. In 2012 The Public Theatre transferred our production to New York’s Central Park. Again directed by Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel, it featured Amy Adams as The Baker’s Wife, multi-Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy as the Witch, and Glenn Close as the voice of the Giant.

One of the songs in Into the Woods is ‘Giants In The Sky’. Stephen Sondheim was a giant of theatre, and we hope you’ll join us in celebrating his life and his work.

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