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March 6, 2011

Lafayette Presents an Evening with Stephen Sondheim March 8

Stephen Sondheim (left) with Frank Rich, courtesy of Megan Fitzgerald

As part of the College’s Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Visiting Lecture Series, Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will engage in an onstage conversation with New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

“An Evening with Stephen Sondheim: A Life in the Theater” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, in Colton Chapel. The conversation will conclude with a question and answer session. Questions are requested ahead of time and can be emailed to Aimee Torrisi in the Office of the President. The event is free and open to the public. Sondheim and Rich will also present a private workshop-style session with students and faculty.

Sondheim is arguably the greatest living creator of American musical theater. Over the past 50 years, his landmark contributions ranged from the classics West Side Story and Gypsy to his masterpieces Sunday in the Park with George and Sweeney Todd.  Sondheim’s sophisticated shows, which feature his complex lyrics and intricate melodies, challenged traditional notions of what a musical could be, and ushered the uniquely American art form of the Broadway musical into its maturity and into the modern age.

During the live, unscripted conversation, Sondheim and Rich will reminisce about Sondheim’s career including his collaborations with Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Tim Burton; predecessors, including his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II; the state of American musical theater; and the differences between film and theater. Also, in a very personal series of reflections, he will discuss his own creative process, speaking specifically on his major works.

The Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Visiting Lecture Series was founded by Trustee Emeritus Thomas Roy Jones in 1973 to provide Lafayette students with the opportunity to hear presentations and interact each year with individuals of exemplary accomplishment in the academic world or in public life.

Stephen Sondheim’s work has won dozens of awards and his lyrics and music have become so popular as to become part of the American lexicon.

He wrote the lyrics for his first Broadway hits West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959), which have been repeatedly revived on Broadway and throughout the world. His first Broadway show as both composer and lyricist was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962. With numerous collaborators, he would go on to create a remarkable succession of musicals: Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), The Frogs (1974), Pacific Overtures (1976),  Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Into the Woods (1987), Assassins (1990), Passion (1994), and Bounce (2003).

He also wrote the scores for the Alain Resnais film Stavisky (1974) and Warren Beatty’s Academy Award-winning Reds (1981), as well as songs for Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990), among other movies.

His songs have been anthologized in hit Broadway and West End revues, including Side by Side by Sondheim and Putting It Together. Many of his musicals have been made into movies, including, most recently, the Tim Burton-directed adaptation of Sweeney Todd (2007), starring Johnny Depp.

Sondheim has won numerous awards including the Kennedy Center Honors, the Pulitzer Prize, two Grammys, an Oscar, and eight Tonys, including a special award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater in 2008.

Also in 2008, Sony BMG Masterworks released the CD-set, Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far, a four-disc collection of music from Sondheim’s Broadway shows, film scores, television specials, incidental music, and previously unreleased recordings as well as photographs from his personal archives.

Frank Rich started as a columnist on the New York Times op-ed page in 1994 after 14 years as the paper’s chief drama critic. He has also served as a senior writer for The New York Times Magazine and a film and television critic at Time magazine.

Among other honors, Rich received the George Polk Award for commentary in 2005.  He is the author of The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America (2006); a childhood memoir Ghost Light (2000); a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998); and The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson with co-author Lisa Aronson (1987). In 2008, Mr. Rich signed on as a creative consultant to help initiate and develop new programming for HBO.

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