Sondheim, Stephen Joshua (sôndˈhĪm) [key], 1930–, American composer and lyricist, b. New York City. As a young man, he studied lyric writing with Oscar Hammerstein 2d, and early in his career he wrote lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957) and collaborated with Jule Styne in the writing of Gypsy (1959). Later he composed his own music and lyrics for such musicals as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Pacific Overtures (1976), Sweeney Todd (1979), and Merrily We Roll Along (1981). His later works include Sunday in the Park with George (1984; Pulitzer Prize), Into the Woods (1987), Assassins (1991), Passion (1994), and Road Show (2008). Widely regarded as the most important figure in the American musical theater of the late 20th cent., Sondheim has expanded the boundaries of lyric writing and subject matter, introduced complex characters and situations, brought a mordant wit and sophisticated lyricism to his words and music, and in the process reinvented the Broadway musical.
See his collected lyrics (with his commentary), Vol. I (1954–1981), Finishing the Hat (2010) and Vol. II (1981–2011), Look, I Made a Hat (2011); biographies by G. Martin (1993) and M. Secrest (1998); studies by J. Gordon (1990, 1997).