New York Public Library honors Stephen Sondheim with new tribute display

December 3, 2021

Photograph of Sondheim at the piano by Friedman-Abeles (Firm) Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The New York Public Library has opened a new exhibit honoring the legacy of the late Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, considered one of the best musical theater composers of our time. Sondheim, the mastermind behind works in West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and many others, died last week at age 91. Free and open to the public until early next year, the display features letters and other objects related to Sondheim found in the archives of the Library of the Performing Arts.

Sondheim at opening night party for Sardi’s for the stage production West Side Story; Photograph by Friedman-Abeles (Firm) Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Located on the third floor of the Library for Performing Arts in Lincoln Square, the tribute is made up of two sections. The first, No One Is Alone: The Letters of Stephen Sondheim, highlights letters Sondheim wrote to colleagues, including Harold Prince, Peter Stone, Boris Aronson, and Richard Rodgers.

The second section, Pretty Little Masterpiece!, shows pieces of set models and sketches for musicals Sondheim wrote with James Lapine, including Into the Woods, Passion, and Sunday in the Park with George. Doug Reside, the curator of the research library’s Billy Rose Theater Divison, organized the new display.

“Any sentimental recounting of my memories of the few times I was lucky enough to interact with Stephen Sondheim would feel, to me, a sort of fraud compared to the memories of his collaborators, friends, and family who are grieving a fresh loss in their lives,” Reside wrote in a personal essay for the library following Sondheim’s passing. “I admired the man, but I couldn’t say I knew him well. His work, though, remains. That’s durable forever.”

In 2013, NYPL named Stephen Sondheim a Library Lion for his cultural contributions and achievements. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

The display will be on view at the library at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza until January 14, 2022.

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