Who's Who in Musicals: So-Su
by John Kenrick
b. March 22, 1930 (New York City)
Protege of Oscar Hammerstein II, Sondheim got his start writing the music and lyrics for Saturday Night, a charming project which was filed away after the unexpected death of its producer. He next wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957) and Jule Styne's Gypsy (1959). Had Sondheim never worked on another score, these two classics would have guaranteed him a place in theatrical history. Luckily, they were just the beginning of a brilliant career. Sondheim's lyrics for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) got a warmer critical response than his melodies, and the failure of Anyone Can Whistle (1964) led to one of his most frustrating assignments writing lyrics for Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965) with Richard Rodgers. After that show proved a disappointment, Sondheim spent years searching for his next project.
With Company (1970), he and director/producer Hal Prince began a decade long series of musicals that dominated the Broadway musical scene. Follies (1973), A Little Night Music (1974) and Pacific Overtures (1976) were "concept" musicals multi-character shows that center around a particular event rather than a more traditional plot. With the neo-operatic Sweeney Todd (1979), these Sondheim masterworks form one of the most impressive bodies of work in the history of musical theater adventurous, moving shows with intense theatrical power. The Sondheim-Prince partnership ended with the failure of the backwards musical Merrily We Roll Along (1981).
Teaming with director/librettist James Lapine, Sondheim composed Sunday in the Park With George (1983), Into The Woods (1987), and Passion (1994). His Assassins (1991) is a cult favorite, but has only managed brief runs in New York and London. His long-neglected Saturday Night enjoyed short-lived but warmly received productions on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s. Sondheim's musical comedy Wise Guys was revised and re-titled Bounce (2003), then closed after regional try-outs. Further revised and re-titled Road Show, it had a brief off-Broadway run in 2008. The 2000s also brought major London and New York revivals of Sondheim's most popular musicals, and his works are discussed passionately by fans, critics and scholars. A man of surprising contradictions (he confessed in a 2000 NY Times interview that he has hardly ever read a complete book since his college years), Sondheim is the undisputed dean of theatre composers.
(b. Thomas William Hicks)
b. Dec. 17, 1936 (London, UK)
Steele was a merchant seaman and rock n' roll star before several comic movie and stage roles led to his being cast as "Arthur Kipps" in the London musical Half a Sixpence (1963). His jaunty presence and seemingly limitless energy were keys to the show's success. He repeated the role on Broadway in 1965, and in the film version two years later. On screen, he played Irish butler "John Lawless" in Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and the irrepressible leprechaun "Og" in the underrated screen version of Finian's Rainbow (1968).
Steele played the title role in the popular London stage adaptation of Frank Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen (1974), repeating the role in a successful revival three years later. After an unsuccessful attempt to revise the ill-fated musical Ziegfeld (1988), he directed and starred in the London version of Singing in the Rain (1989). He had less success with Some Like It Hot (1992), his version of the 1972 Broadway musical Sugar. In recent years, he has played the title roles in Doctor Doolittle and Scrooge in British tours and regional productions. Steele has also demonstrated his talents as a composer, painter and sculptor.
b. August 1, 1924 (New York City) - d. Sept. 20, 1987 (NYC)
One of the most successful Broadway librettists of the late 20th Century, Stewart first contributed to Alive and Kicking (1949) and several other 1950s revues. Part of the legendary writing staff for NBC-TV's Caesar's Hour (1954-57), Stewart hit his stride with the librettos for three long-running musicals staged by Gower Champion Bye Bye Birdie (1960) which brought him his first Tony for Best Book, Carnival (1961) and Hello Dolly (1964), which brought him his second Tony. He went on to write George M (1968), Sugar (1973), and the ill-fated Mack and Mabel (1974).
Stewart could craft a script to fit any era and any style, from farce to high drama. Expanding his efforts, he contributed both book and lyrics for the witty I Love My Wife (1977), then book alone for The Grand Tour (1979). He collaborated with Mark Bramble on the libretti for Barnum (1980) and the mega-hit 42nd Street (1980). His final years were marked by a frustrating series of Broadway failures, including Bring Back Birdie (1981), Harrigan and Hart (1985), and Jule Styne's Pieces of Eight a musical version of Treasure Island that never came to New York. Stewart's sister is the author Francine Pascal. He died of pneumonia at age 63.
b. August 19, 1873 (Valmont, Colorado) - d. Mar. 6, 1959 (Hollywood, CA)
Born in a Colorado log cabin, Stone ran away at age 11 to join the Walter Kirby Circus. He later toured with medicine, minstrel and variety shows, and even appeared in London music halls. Five foot eight with gray-blue eyes, he had leading man looks and extraordinary comic instincts -- a useful and rare combination. In his early 20s, he teamed up with David Montgomery to form a blackface song and dance act. Their acrobatic routines soon made them headliners on B.F. Keith's vaudeville circuit. Montgomery and Stone made their Broadway debut in The Girl From Up There (1901) and became Broadway stars playing "The Scarecrow" (Stone) and "The Tin Man" (Montgomery) in The Wizard of Oz (1903). They also co-starred in The Red Mill (1906), in which they introduced "The Streets of New York." Friends as well as professional partners, Montgomery and Stone were one of the top teams in show business for 22 years -- until Montgomery's death in 1917.
Stone went on to a triumphant solo career, starring in the title role of the musical Jack O' Lantern (1917) and Tip Top (1920) before his gift for physical comedy led to stardom on the silent screen. He survived a plane crash in 1928, but injuries forced Stone to curtail his stage acrobatics. Ray Bolger proudly modeled his performance as "The Scarecrow" in MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939) after Stone, who had been his longtime idol. Stone himself remained active on both stage and screen through the 1940s, making his final New York stage appearance as the grandfather in a 1945 revival of You Can't Take It With You. His daughters Dorothy and Paula became popular actresses. Blind and in generally poor health during his final years, Stone died at his home at age 85.
b. Feb. 27, 1930 (Los Angeles, CA) - April 26, 2003 (New York, NY)
One of the most important and honored librettists of his time, Stone has also been subjected to some amazing critical abuse. His greatest strength has been in building librettos around unlikely real-life figures and situations. After the failure of Kean (1961), he received his first Tony nomination for the equally unsuccessful Skyscraper (1965). His screenwriting credits include Charade (1963), Father Goose (1964 - Academy Award), Mirage (1965), and Arabesque (1966). No one was prepared for the smashing success of 1776 (1969), a brilliant musical based on the creation of America's Declaration of Independence. Stone received a richly deserved Tony, and wrote the screenplay for the 1972 film version.
Stone's solid librettos for Two By Two (1970), Sugar (1972) and Woman of the Year (1981) received shrugging reviews the last brought him his second Tony for Best Book. After Tommy Tune's My One and Only (1983) underwent radical preview revisions, critics heaped abuse on Stone's often hilarious script and he chalked up yet another Tony nomination. Stone collaborated once again with Tune on the musical version of Grand Hotel (1989), providing a new and effective book for a show that had closed on the road thirty years earlier.
Stone's book for the problematic Will Roger Follies (1991) brought scathing reviews but earned yet another Tony nomination. Few writers have ever had to face anything like the blind critical contempt heaped on his masterful script for the musical Titanic (1997), which nevertheless won the Tony for Best Musical, and brought Stone his third Tony for best book. He revised the libretto for the Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun (1999), and did not live to see his book for Curtains (2007) receive a Drama Desk Award and Tony nomination.
Streisand, Barbra Joan
Actress, singer, songwriter,
b. April 24, 1942 (Brooklyn, NY)
This gifted performer got her start in the gay bars and nightclubs of Manhattan's Greenwich Village, where her haunting way with ballads and a gift for comedy brought an early cult following. After appearing in Off-Broadway revues, Streisand made her Broadway debut in Harold Rome's I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1961), her show-stopping rendition of "Miss Marmelstein" the highlight of an otherwise mediocre show. TV stints and recordings followed, and her first solo album received two Grammy Awards in 1962.
Concert appearances and a memorable TV duet with Judy Garland made Streisand a household name nationwide. Even so, many were surprised when Streisand was cast as "Fanny Brice" in the biographical Broadway musical Funny Girl. Tempestuous previews, rave reviews and the best-selling Jule Styne- Bob Merrill songs "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People" made the show a tremendous personal triumph for Streisand, who received an Oscar for Best Actress when she repeated the role in the 1967 film version. More best selling albums and a string of innovative TV specials added to her fame. Less successful big screen appearances in Hello Dolly (1969) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) and a reputation for being hell to work with did not diminish her status as a superstar.
Streisand became a top film star, appearing in numerous comedies and dramas, as well as a second Fanny Brice bio pic, Funny Lady (1975). For her rock remake of A Star is Born (1976), she received an Academy Award for co-writing the song "Evergreen" with composer Paul Williams. Her last musical film to date was Yentl (1983), which she both starred in and directed. She directed other feature films, including The Prince of Tides. Her many solo albums include two acclaimed collections of Broadway standards presented in her trademark style. Streisand made several concert tours in the late 1990s, culminating with her official retirement from live performance.
b. Feb. 2, 1925 (Detroit, Michigan) - d. June 24, 2014 (Birmingham,
With her gravel-edged belt and charismatic stage presence, this versatile actress was an audience favorite from the beginning. She made her Broadway debut in Angel in the Wings (1947). Ethel Merman's understudy in Call Me Madam, Stritch's show-stealing performance of "Zip" in a revival of Pal Joey (1952) led to her starring in Madam's national tour. She won raves in an unsuccessful revival of On Your Toes (1944), and even her acclaimed clowning was not enough to make the film world spoof Goldilocks (1958) a hit.
Noel Coward cast Stritch as "Mimi Paragon" in the luxury cruise musical comedy Sail Away (1961), which featured her hilarious rendition of "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" She repeated the role in London the following year, then toured in Mame in the late 1960s, playing both the title role and "Vera Charles." Stritch eventually returned to Broadway as the acerbic "Joanne" in Company (1970), stopping that show with her searing rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Ladies Who Lunch." After winning acclaim in the 1972 London production, she spent the next ten years in Britain, where she married actor John Bay and starred in the hit television sitcom Two's Company.
After her husband's death, Stritch returned to New York for an all-star concert of Follies (1985), where her "Broadway Baby" was one of the highlights of the evening. Hal Prince cast her as "Parthy Hawks" in his lavish revival of Show Boat (1994), where she gave a touching rendition of "Why Do I Love You?" Her non-musical performances include "Claire" in an acclaimed revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1996) and appearances on the NBC-TV series Law and Order. She scored a personal triumph with Elaine Stritch at Liberty, a one woman show at the Public Theater in 2001 that moved to Broadway the following year and received a special Tony. She took over the role of "Madame Armfeldt" in the New York revival of A Little Night Music (2010).
Shortly after announcing her retirement from the stage in 2014, Stritch (who had been contending with diabetes and stomach cancer) died at home in her sleep at age 89.
b. Oct. 17, 1954 (Wilmington, Delaware)
When this former chorus dancer collaborated with director Scott Ellis on an inventive revival of Flora the Red Menace (1987), Kander and Ebb agreed to let the duo stage a retrospective of their songs. And the World Goes 'Round (1991) had a brief run, but critical acclaim brought Stroman into the limelight. She then choreographed Liza Minnelli's record setting 1991 run at Radio City Music Hall, as well as successful NY City Opera productions of Don Giovanni, 110 in the Shade and A Little Night Music.
Stroman's inventive dances for the Broadway smash-hit Crazy for You (1992) won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Olivier awards for Best Choreography. She married that show's director, Mike Ockrent. After winning a second Tony two years later for choreographing the Hal Prince revival of Show Boat (1994), she collaborated with Ockrent on staging the lavish Lynn Ahrens- Alan Menken version of A Christmas Carol for Madison Square Garden Theater. Stroman's outstanding work on Big (1996) and Steel Pier (1997) was not enough to save either project. She created new choreography for Oklahoma!, winning acclaim for the 1998 London revival and its 2002 Broadway incarnation.
Stroman's creative use of props (inspired by her hero, Fred Astaire) has become a proud trademark. Who else would make such brilliant use of ropes, swings, trombones and aluminum walkers, and yet always make sure that every dance served the dramatic needs of the show? Mike Ockrent's untimely death sent Stroman into a frenzy of creative activity. She conceived and choreographed Contact (2000), an experimental dance project that wowed the critics, won the Tony for Best Musical and brought Stroman Tonys for choreography and direction. That same season saw her stage a magnificent revival of The Music Man (2000).
The following year, Mel Brooks selected Stroman to direct and choreograph the hilarious stage version of his classic screen comedy The Producers. The most acclaimed musical comedy to hit Broadway in decades, it received rave reviews and won a record-setting number of Tonys including another director-choreographer combo for Stroman. This made her the only person ever to win both Tonys two years in a row. Her staging of the uneven Thou Shalt Not (2001) received a cold response, as did her staging of Mel Brooks second Broadway adaptation, Young Frankenstein (2007). Stroman received far better reviews for her innovative work on Kander and Ebb's short-lived The Scottsboro Boys (2010). She directed a new production of Lehar's The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera in 2015.
b. June 7, 1928 (New York City)
Strouse collaborated with lyricist Lee Adams on the first Broadway score to make successful use of rock idioms, Bye Bye Birdie (1960). They also collaborated on All American (1962), Golden Boy (1964) and the Tony-winning Applause (1970), as well as the West End musical I and Albert (1972). Strouse can adapt traditional showtune forms to any historical period. With lyricist Martin Charnin, he composed Annie (1976), including "Tomorrow" one of the last showtunes to become a standard. He had less luck with Dance A Little Closer, which turned out to be lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's final Broadway project. After several tryouts, Strouse and Charnin's Annie Warbucks failed to find an audience, as did Nick and Nora (1991) a musical (lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.) inspired by The Thin Man mysteries. Since then, he has worked on several new scores, including a musical based on The Night They Raided Minsky's.
(b. Julius Kerwin Stein)
b. Dec. 31, 1905 (London, UK) - d. Sept 20, 1994 (New York, NY)
He debuted as a concert pianist with the Chicago Symphony at age six, becoming a bandleader and Hollywood vocal coach before venturing into songwriting. Working with Sammy Cahn, Frank Loesser and other lyricists, Styne composed numerous 1940s hits for the big screen and Tin Pan Alley publishers including "Its Been a Long, Long Time" and "I've Heard That Song Before."
Styne first conquered Broadway by teaming with Cahn on the successful High Button Shoes (1947). He followed this with more than a dozen noteworthy stage scores. He collaborated with Leo Robin on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), in which Carol Channing introduced "Little Girl From Little Rock" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Styne composed eight scores with co-lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, including Peter Pan (1954) and Bells Are Ringing (1956) with the latter including the hit songs "Just In Time" and "The Party's Over."
Stephen Sondheim provided lyrics only for Styne's most acclaimed work, Gypsy (1959), which featured the hits "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Let Me Entertain You." Styne teamed up with lyricist Bob Merrill to create the score for Funny Girl (1964), in which newcomer Barbra Streisand introduced "Don't Rain On My Parade" and "People." Styne and Merrill also collaborated on two outstanding TV musicals Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and the Liza Minnelli vehicle The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood. They also worked together on the Boston flop Prettybelle (1971) starring Angela Lansbury, and the modestly successful Sugar (1972) starring Robert Morse.
Styne received his only Tony Award for the score to the commercial failure Hallelujah Baby (1967). Styne co-produced several musicals, including Make a Wish (1951) and First Impressions (1959), and directed the disastrous Something More (1964). His last score was for the ill-fated Red Shoes (1993); Pieces of Eight, Styne's musical version of "Treasure Island," never made it beyond regional productions. He enjoyed fresh acclaim in his final years thanks to revivals of Gypsy. Six weeks after undergoing open heart surgery, he died of coronary failure at age 88.
Sullivan, Arthur Seymour
b. May 13, 1842 (Lambeth, UK) d. Nov. 22, 1900 (London, UK)
After studying classical composition in London and Leipzig, Sullivan wrote a series of cantatas and hymn tunes ("Onward Christian Soldiers") that made him the most celebrated composer in Britain. His first attempt to collaborate with lyricist/librettist William S. Gilbert resulted in the flop Thespis (1871). However, when fledgling producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought them back together for Trial by Jury (1875), the partnership blossomed.
Gilbert and Sullivan turned out a dozen musicals (which the team called "light operas"), including the international hits H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1880), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), Yeoman of the Guard (1888) and The Gondoliers (1889). Sullivan's lilting melodies have a timeless appeal. His operettas forever changed the artistic standards for musical theater in Britain and the USA. Sullivan's classical works include the rarely heard grand opera Ivanhoe (1891) and the popular hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers." Sullivan was knighted by Queen Victoria (a great fan of his musicals) in 1883. His self-indulgent lifestyle contributed to the kidney disease which plagued his adult years and led to his untimely death at age 58. You can learn far more about Gilbert and Sullivan in our special sub-site Gilbert & Sullivan 101.