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Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Steven Spielberg, and Many More Salute Stephen Sondheim

Collaborators and admirers remember the late icon of American theater. 

The announcement Friday evening that Stephen Sondheim had died at the age of 91 prompted many musical theater enthusiasts to gather on social media to voice their admiration for one of the principal architects of the form. Declarations of love came not only from those who bought Sondheim’s albums and tickets to his shows but those who sang his melodies and lyrics. 

Barbra Streisand, who recorded eight Sondheim songs on her landmark 1985 collection, The Broadway Album, celebrated the great artist’s life and expressed gratitude that he got 91 years.

Bernadette Peters, who was in the opening night cast of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods, as well as revivals of Gypsy, A Little Night Music, and Follies, shared that she was sad to lose her friend, who gave her so much to sing about.

Patti LuPone, currently in a revival of Sondheim’s Company (and who previously appeared in revivals of Sweeney Todd and Gypsy), called her late maestro “the Gold Standard.”

Tony-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, who performed the lead role of Sweeney Todd during the Kennedy Center’s massive 2002 Sondheim festival, wrote that Sondheim will live on as long as his songs are performed.

Neil Patrick Harris, who appeared in the first official Broadway production of Sondheim’s controversial Assassins and the filmed version of Company, wrote that he cherished every interaction he had with the celebrated composer.

Donna Murphy, who was in the opening night cast of Sondheim’s Passion, wrote that she was bereft but grateful (and shared a picture taken at legendary Broadway haunt Sardi’s.)

As fate would have it, Sondheim was having a moment before he passed. In addition to Company being back on the boards at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (with Katrina Lenk playing the lead part in a gender reversal), Assassins is downtown at Classic Stage Company’s Lynn F. Angelson Theater. Sondheim also plays a pivotal role in the new-to-Netflix adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s pre-Rent musical Tick, Tick…Boom!, starring Andrew Garfield.

In the film, Bradley Whitford plays Sondheim, but, as director Lin-Manuel Miranda explained to V.F. only a few days ago, the real Sondheim can be heard leaving a message on an answering machine for “Jon.”

Miranda, arguably the most groundbreaking post-Sondheim voice in American theater, was eager to pay his respects to the legend when the news broke Friday. (The Oscar mentioned in the tweet and email is, of course, Oscar Hammerstein II, the lyricist who mentored Sondheim as a young man.)

There’s even more Sondheim zeitgeist. In a few days, critics and VIPs will get their first look at the hotly anticipated remake of West Side Story, the lyrics to which Sondheim wrote opposite Leonard Bernstein’s music. (Sondheim was only 27 on the musical’s opening night.) Steven Spielberg, who directed the new version (collaborating with screenwriter Tony Kushner), gave a statement to Variety on Sondheim’s passing. 

“Steve and I became friends only recently, but we became good friends and I was surprised to discover that he knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met,” Spielberg’s statement read. “When we spoke, I couldn’t wait to listen, awestruck by the originality of his perceptions of art, politics and people—all delivered brilliantly by his mischievous wit and dazzling words. I will miss him very much, but he left a body of work that has taught us, and will keep teaching us, how hard and how absolutely necessary it is to love.”

Additional tributes to Sondheim include messages from Hugh Jackman, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, David Alan Grier, Robert Duncan McNeill, Uzo Aduba, Lea Salonga, Anna Kendrick, Steven Pasquale, Josh Gad, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Sondheim the Renaissance Man was also remembered by the tag team of Rian Johnson and Edgar Wright, shouting out one of his few non-musical projects, the screenplay he co-wrote with Anthony Perkins for the devilishly tricky whodunnit The Last of Sheila.

Dozens of Sondheim videos swarmed the internet, including from D.A. Pennebaker’s magnificent 1970 documentary Original Cast Recording: “Company,” one of the most mesmerizing looks at the act of creation put to film. One video, a moment of admiration from Stephen Colbert, sums up the sentiments of theater fans nicely.

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