A complete guide to Stephen Sondheim musicals
Stephen Sondheim was one of the greatest American musical theatre composers and lyricists of all time. During his lifetime he was honoured with theatres named after him in both the West End and on Broadway — the Sondheim Theatre in London, and the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway.
Throughout his career, Stephen Sondheim won 39 awards including numerous Olivier Awards, Tony Awards and Grammy Awards. Sondheim was even inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and has been granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Stephen Sondheim passed away on 26 Nov. 2021, at the age of 91. Read more about Stephen Sondheim's passing here and discover more about Sondheim's incredible legacy of work he leaves behinds for generations of theatregoers to enjoy.
Stephen Sondheim musicals
Company, Gypsy, and Into the Woods are just three of Stephen Sondheim's excellent musicals. In total, there are 18 Stephen Sondheim musicals spanning over five decades. Perhaps you’ll discover a new Stephen Sondheim musical while perusing this list.
Saturday Night (1954)
Set in Brooklyn, Saturday Night tells the story of middle-class bachelor friends who want a life that’s more than working downtown. But, as they try to get rich quick, it’s not that easy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to stage Saturday Night either. Due to the lead producer’s death, it was never produced in the 1950s. Saturday Night was produced in London in 1997 at the Bridewell Theatre, starring Tracie Bennett. Check out a video from the 2000 Off-Broadway premiere above.
West Side Story (1957)
The musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story follows the love story between Tony and Maria, who belong to rival gangs in New York City. It’s a dance-packed extravaganza with infectious melodies and catchy lyrics, with stand out songs including “I Feel Pretty”, “Somewhere” and “America”. West Side Story made its West End premiere in 1958, and was later revived in 1974 and 1997. Listen to Sierra Boggess and Julian Ovenden perform the "Balcony" scene above.
Gypsy is inspired by the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, an early twentieth-century American entertainer, famed for her striptease act. During the musical, Rose raises her two daughters for a career in showbusiness while reflecting on her own life, set to songs including “Everything’s Coming up Roses." Gypsy's last London revival starred Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose, and won four Olivier Awards including Best Musical Revival. Check out Imelda Staunton performing "Rose's Turn" above.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)
Ancient Romans take centre stage in this 1960s Sondheim musical. Characters names are based on Latin words, and its story is rooted in historical traditions too. The story tells of Pseudolus, a Roman slave who has to deal with senators and soldiers to help find his slave a wife. This musical was last in London in 2004, staged at the National Theatre.
Anyone Can Whistle (1964)
Three act musicals are pretty uncommon, but Anyone Can Whistle changed the traditional two-act musical structure. Set in a fictional American town that’s gone bankrupt, mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper has to save her community. As the title suggests, whistling plays a major part of the storyline. Anyone Can Whistle has yet to receive its West End premiere, but you can watch Angela Lansbury in Anyone Can Whistle above. Anyone Can Whistle is at Southwark Playhouse in 2022.
Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965)
When Richard Rodgers needed a new musical collaborator after Oscar Hammerstein passed away, Rodgers enlisted Sondheim’s help to write the lyrics for Do I Hear a Waltz? Following Leona Samish on her first trip to Venice, the story tells of her blossoming relationship to Renato di Rossi and how she matures in her Italian surroundings. It’s not easy for her, but going to Italy changes Leona for the better. Do I Hear a Waltz? is yet to make its London premiere.
Told as a series of vignettes, Company sees Robert flit between married peers and engaged couples while he remains single on his 35th birthday. Whilst the couples envy his commitment-free lifestyle, his desire to meet someone for a loving companion grows. The Tony Award-winning musical was recently adapted, with Rosalie Craig playing the lead, with a name change to Bobbie.
Follies tells the story of Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone, two couples who reminisce over the ‘Weismann’s Follies’ at a reunion. Standing in a crumbling theatre, audiences follow the couple’s younger days into the present. With a score including “Losing My Mind” and “Broadway Baby”, Follies is a poignant musical reflecting on past Broadway eras. Follies was last at the National Theatre, starring Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. Watch Imelda Staunton sing "Losing My Mind" from Follies at the National Theatre above.
A Little Night Music (1973)
Set in early 20th century Sweden, A Little Night Music centres around actress Desirée Armfeldt who is doted upon by adoring men. Even though it’s a rarely performed musical, the Stephen Sondheim classic “Send in the Clowns” is a stand out number. The latest London revival was at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2008, starring Jessie Buckley and Hannah Waddingham. Watch a video from A Little Night Music in London above.
The Frogs (1974)
Rather than a Broadway or West End premiere, The Frogs was first performed at Yale University. Inspired by ancient Greek philosophy and classical playwrights, The Frogs sees Dionysus, George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare all in the same room. The only The Frogs London show was at Jermyn Street Theatre in 2017, running for just three weeks. Check out a tribute to The Frogs at the Sondheim at 80 BBC Proms concert.
Pacific Overtures (1976)
Elements of Japanese theatre are fused with Western performance styles in Sondheim’s 1976 musical, where a samurai and American fishermen become friends. Due to the male-heavy casting needed for Pacific Overtures, as well as the show’s themes, this musical is pretty much consigned to the history books. Pacific Overtures made its London debut in 2003 at the Donmar Warehouse. Check out the original Broadway cast at the 1976 Tony Awards above.
Sweeney Todd (1979)
We’ve all heard of the demon barber of Fleet Street. Sweeney Todd isn’t for the faint hearted though; it’s a musical full of pies, haircuts and killing. The jury is still out as to whether Sweeney Todd really existed, but one thing’s for sure, productions of Sweeney Todd continue to scare audiences today. Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball led the 2012 London revival, which won three Olivier Awards. Listen to Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball above.
Merrily We Roll Along (1981)
Franklin Shepard’s career as a successful composer is told in reverse chronology in Merrily We Roll Along. Starting at the top of his career, the musical looks at the price of fame, fortune and friendship as Shepard’s life isn’t as wonderful as it is initially presented. A musical film adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along is in the works, currently being filmed in real time over the course of a decade. In 2012, Merrily We Roll Along played at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and you can listen to the London cast above.
Using the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by George Seurat as the muse, Stephen Sondheim fictionalises painter George Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George. With a blank canvas to work with, the story makes it clear that George enjoys working with paint to create a life that he wishes he could live in, rather than face the world around him. Sunday in the Park with George was at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2005, starring Jenna Russell. A new London revival, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, is currently postponed. In the meantime, relive Jenna Russell's performance here.
Into the Woods (1987)
One of the most famous Stephen Sondheim works, Into the Woods combines fairytale classics with fictional stories for make-believe mayhem. Set over the course of three days, the plot follows a baker and his wife in their wish to have children with Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) helping. But with a witch deciding their fate, going deeper into the woods isn’t always a happy adventure. Into the Woods has been staged in London at the Donmar Warehouse and Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Jenna Russell played Cinderella in the Donmar production, and the Baker's Wife at Regent's Park.
In American history, four presidents have been assassinated. Now, their stories have been dramatised, shooting the American Dream in the forehead. Events from decades past are retold from the assassinator’s point of view in Assassins, culminating in the death of John F. Kennedy. An all-star cast took part in Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2014, including Aaron Tveit, Andy Nyman, Catherine Tate and Jamie Parker. Check out the Assassins cast in rehearsals.
Inspired by the 1981 film Passion of Love, Sondheim’s nineties musical centres on manipulating relationships. At the heart of is it is Giorgio and Clara, a happy couple until Giorgio fears for his life when sent to a military outpost. In 2010, the Donmar Warehouse staged Passion as part of Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations, and you can listen to "Trio" from Passion here.
Sondheim definitely struck while the iron was hot in writing a musical about the American Gold Rush. Two brothers make financial gains while heading east, but their spending catches up with them when receipts of their fraudulent business rise to the surface. Bounce was later retitled Road Show. Road Show made its London premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, starring Michael Jibson, David Bedella and Jon Robyns. Listen to the London cast sing "Addison's City" from Road Show above.