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Friday 26 November 2021, 10:57am

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of renowned composer and lyricist and RADA Honorary Fellow Stephen Sondheim.

Sondheim is one of theatre’s most celebrated composers and lyricists, and created musicals for more than fifty years. He won more Tony Awards than any other composer – eight, including the Special Award for Lifetime Achievement – as well as an Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize, Olivier Award, eight Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His acclaimed works include Follies, Company, Assassins, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd and the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy. RADA has performed several of his works, with productions in recent years of A Little Night Music (2017), Assassins (2018) and Into The Woods (2019).

RADA revived the tradition of Honorary Fellows in 2018, in order to celebrate leading figures from across the industry, both high profile and unsung, highlighting transformative work on and off the stage, with Sondheim accepting the Honorary Fellowship at a special ceremony in New York in 2019.

Sondheim is a cornerstone of RADA training, and over the years, several notable graduates have gone on to receive recognition for their performances in his productions, including Dame Diana Rigg (A Little Night Music), Henry Goodman (Assassins), Dame Sheila Hancock (Sweeney Todd), Adrian Lester (Company), Dame Siân Phillips (A Little Night Music) and Imelda Staunton (Follies, Gypsy, Into The Woods, Sweeney Todd).

"I had the huge privilege of meeting Stephen Sondheim in New York, who described our training at RADA and the nature of his songs as 'a perfect fit'. His music and lyrics make our actors understand the very essence of singing; that it is simply an extension of speech. Furthermore, he writes in such a way that demands a total and equal commitment to music and words, music-making and acting. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to him for his amazing body of work, which has profoundly influenced the development of our actors in training."
Jane Streeton, Lead Singing Tutor

Many of our students have also been recognised at the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Awards, including Sabi Perez, Katie Buchholz, Alistair Toovey, Phoebe Pryce, Taron Egerton, Cynthia Erivo, Michael Peavoy and most recently, Jenna Augen and Jamie Bogyo who performed for Sondheim at the Honorary Fellow event in New York.

''Sondheim is the reason I fell in love with musicals. His work moved me, inspired me, and taught me more than any other artist. I quite literally grew up listening to Sondheim throughout my childhood. It was one of the greatest honors of my life to sing for him and a memory I will forever cherish."
Jamie Bogyo

His incredible canon of work has had a profound impact on countless artists and audiences and we all send our deepest condolences to Jeff Romley and to all those grieving this huge loss to theatre and music.

Photos: Kurt Sneddon

For me, performing his work was always about how it felt, not how it sounded. He did all the work for you. His ability to write the rage and heartache of Rose’s Turn and Losing My Mind, two women having nervous breakdowns in front of you, shows a 'playwright' at his mightiest. Aren’t we so fortunate to have been witness to his brilliant mind, his ferocious passion, his untouchable talent, and his extraordinary legacy?
Imelda Staunton