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Michael Ball Pays Tribute to Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim is widely acknowledged as the most innovative, most influential, and most important composer and lyricist in modern Broadway history. He is the winner of an Academy Award, numerous Tony Award, multiple Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Some of his other accolades include 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 Awardâfor Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (2008).

Sondheim recently celebrated is 8th birthday on Monday, March 22, 2010. In his honor, theater companies all over the world are producing his works and hosting galas in celebration. The U.K. Guardian recently caught up stage star Michael Ball, who shared his thoughts on the living legend in an open letter to The Guardian.

Michael Ball is an English actor, radio and TV presenter who is best known for the song "Love Changes Everything" and musical theatre roles such as Marius in Les Misérables, Alex in Aspects of Love, Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray for which he won the 2008 Laurence Olivier Award for best actor in a musical.

Writes Ball: "I think Stephen himself would agree, somewhat, that he's been a tortured soul throughout much of his life, and has found it hard to be on a search for happiness. A lot of brilliant artists are conflicted in the same way and it informs their work. It's not an irony that he works in musicals; it's ignorant to believe the form only works on a cheery, superficial level. Sondheim has never written typical musicals - the kind made famous in the US in the 1940s and 1950s - he writes about the human condition, with layer upon layer of depth. His is musical theatre - like plays with music - not musical comedy, and there's a big difference. It's also why his legacy is so important: Stephen Sondheim changed the face of the medium."

To read the full letter in The Guardian, click here.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Road Show (2008), Passion (1994), Assassins (1991), Into the Woods (1987), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sweeney Todd (1979), Pacific Overtures (1976), The Frogs (1974), A Little Night Music (1973), Follies (1971; revised in London, 1987), Company (1970), Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), as well as the lyrics for West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) and additional lyrics for Candide (1973). Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983) and Putting It Together (1993/99) are anthologies of his work, as is the new musical Sondheim on Sondheim. He composed the film scores of Stavisky (1974) and Reds (1981) and songs for Dick Tracy (Academy Award, 1990). He also wrote songs for the television production "Evening Primrose" (1966), co-authored, with Anthony Perkins, the film The Last of Sheila (1973) and, with George Furth, the play Getting Away with Murder (1996), and provided incidental music for the plays The Girls of Summer (1956), Invitation to a March (1961) and Twigs (1971). He won Tony Awards for Best Score for a Musical for Passion, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Follies and Company. All of these shows won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, as did Pacific Overtures and Sunday in the Park with George, the latter also receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Saturday Night (1954), his first professional musical, finally had its New York premiere in 1999 at Second Stage Theatre.

Photo Credit: Ben Strothmann

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