Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stephen Sondheim


































On September 15, 2010, eighty-year-old Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest theater composers of our time, joined other legendary theatre artists who have had Broadway theatres named after them – Ethel Barrymore, David Belasco, Edwin Booth, George Broadhurst, George Gershwin, Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Eugene O'Neill, Neil Simon and August Wilson.

Sondheim (born March 22, 1930) gave a speech during the unveiling ceremony of the new marquee on the former Henry Miller’s Theatre at 124 W. 43rd Street. The signage on the marquee is Sondheim’s signature. The  restored neo-Georgian brick façade, which dates back to 1918, fronts an entirely new 1,055 seat theatre placed below street level. The restoration retained the “Henry Miller’s Theatre” letters, still visible etched in stone high above the Stephen Sondheim marquee (see photo above).

This was a rare instance of a Broadway theatre being named for a living person in recent times. The Neil Simon Theatre (formerly the Alvin) was dedicated in 1983 in the presence of the playwright, and while August Wilson knew that the Virginia Theatre was to be renamed in his honor in 2005, he died before the dedication took place later that year.

The first show to open in the newly renamed theatre was The Pee-wee Herman Show, which began performances on October 26, 2010. At present a revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is playing here. It should not be lost on my readers that Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim are/were both homosexual Broadway artists. Sondheim did not come out as a gay man until he was 40 and did not live with a partner (dramatist Peter Jones) until he was 61.

Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the landmark musical West Side Story (1957) in collaboration with bisexual Leonard Bernstein’s music and gay Arthur Laurents’s book. Laurents, born in 1918 (the same year as Bernstein), died less than a year ago in May, 2011. Sondheim, the baby of that creative team, was just 25 years old when he was hired to work on West Side Story. He followed with another smash hit with his lyrics for Gypsy in 1959.

Sondheim helped establish what is known as the “concept” musical, which sought to tell stories in fresh ways – Company (1970), Follies (1971) and Pacific Overtures (1976), for example. He changed the nature of musical theatre forever and has influenced subsequent generations of writers.

Sondheim is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday in the Park with George), an Academy Award (for Sooner or Later, as performed by Madonna in the film Dick Tracy) and multiple Tony and Grammy Awards. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), the National Medal of Arts (1996), the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Gold Medal for Music (2006) and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (2008).


Sondheim (above left) with Leonard Bernstein in 1965.

Among the many shows for which Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics are Into the Woods (1987), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Sweeney Todd (1979), A Little Night Music (1973), Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Five shows are anthologies of his works: Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).

It is a lesser known fact that he has composed film scores, written songs for television productions and provided incidental music for stage plays.

Sondheim is currently working on a new musical, tentatively titled All Together Now, in collaboration with playwright David Ives, whose play Venus in Fur (2010) is enjoying an extended run at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

In 2009 the Signature Theatre, in my home state of Virginia, established a new honor, The Sondheim Award, as “a tribute to America's most influential contemporary musical theatre composer.” The first award was presented at the Arlington, VA, theatre’s gala fund-raiser. Sondheim himself was the first recipient of the award, which includes a $5000 honorarium for the recipients' choice of a nonprofit organization. The 2010 honoree was Angela Lansbury, and in 2011 the recipient was Bernadette Peters.

Trivia: Sondheim is the only living composer with a quarterly journal published in his name, The Sondheim Review.


Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin perform "Move On" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George with the New York Philharmonic for Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration, which was aired on PBS in November, 2010.

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