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EntertainmentInterest in Stephen Sondheim's Music, Books and Shows Soar...

Interest in Stephen Sondheim’s Music, Books and Shows Soar After His Death

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Streams of Stephen Sondheim’s music are up more than 500 percent. New York’s Drama Book Shop sold out the first volume of his collected lyrics. And close to 5,000 people have been entering a lottery to win tickets to weekend performances for a sold-out run of “Assassins.”

In the days since the unexpected death of one of the most important writers in the history of musical theater, interest in his work has surged.

“There’s even greater demand to see the work of Sondheim, and we’ve been feeling the benefit,” said Chris Harper, a lead producer of the revival of “Company,” one of Sondheim’s most acclaimed musicals, which opens on Broadway on Thursday. “What has also been pretty extraordinary to watch is that audiences are listening much more intently, and it feels like a much richer and deeper experience.”

Sondheim died, unexpectedly, on Nov. 26, at the age of 91; the cause of death was cardiovascular disease, according to his death certificate. Broadway theaters decided to dim their lights Wednesday night for one minute in his honor.

Sondheim’s popularity had its peaks and valleys during his lifetime, and many of his shows were not commercially successful. But much of his work is now frequently performed, and his importance to the art form is undisputed; on Sunday he was hailed by President Biden, who said, “Stephen was in a class of his own as a composer and a lyricist.”

The evidence of a spike in appetite for work by Sondheim is everywhere.

Look, for example, to the Off Broadway revival of “Assassins,” directed by John Doyle and now running at the Classic Stage Company in Lower Manhattan. The production was fully sold out before Sondheim’s death, but now the number of people regularly entering a digital lottery hoping to score $15 tickets is ballooning. And the roughly 5,000 people seeking tickets to weekend shows face long odds: the theater seats just 196 people.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in interest since his passing,” said Phil Haas, the nonprofit’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s hard to judge the exact amount, because the show is sold out and has been sold out for some time, but we have seen increased numbers of people joining our lottery, more people waiting on the cancellation line, and people waiting for longer.”

Then there is the Drama Book Shop, a specialty store in Midtown that stocks scripts and other theater-related publications. Needless to say, Sondheim was always popular there, but now, even more so.

“We almost immediately sold out, and had to reorder, ‘Finishing the Hat,’” said Pete Milano, who oversees the store’s operations, referring to the first volume of Sondheim’s collected lyrics. After Sondheim’s death, the store assembled much of its Sondheim material for a display near the entrance, and now the second volume of Sondheim’s lyrics, “Look, I Made a Hat,” is selling strongly, as are the texts for the musicals he co-authored.

“It’s not just one, but across the board, which was nice to see,” Milano said. “Plus, a lot of people are talking about him when they come in.”

Online, streams of Sondheim’s music soared 523 percent in the U.S. during the week after his death, according to MRC Data, a tracking service that powers the Billboard charts.

At the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, a new display of Sondheim memorabilia — letters he wrote to prominent artists as well as set models and sketches from some of his shows — was mounted in response to his death. And on Instagram, a new account called @sondheimletters has sprung up to collect and display letters Sondheim wrote to fans as well as collaborators.

The “Company” opening, for a re-gendered production directed by Marianne Elliott that stars Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone, is proving to be a hot ticket — among those expected to attend are Meryl Streep and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

And there are other productions of Sondheim shows in the works. The Encores! program at New York City Center had already announced it was planning a two-week run of “Into the Woods” next May, with public school students and older adults joining Sara Bareilles, Christian Borle, Heather Hedley and Ashley Park in the cast; last week Encores! announced that the production will now be dedicated to Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics.

“I’ve been hearing from some of the performers that are in it, who are weeping as they relisten to his music and prepare for their roles,” said the Encores! artistic director, Lear deBessonet, who is directing the “Into the Woods” production. “This is a moment of grace, to celebrate Steve and all he brought to this world.”

MasterVoices, a New York based chorus, is planning a concert version of the rarely staged “Anyone Can Whistle” in March at Carnegie Hall, starring Vanessa Williams. Barrington Stage Company, in the Berkshires, announced Tuesday that it would produce “A Little Night Music” next summer, directed by Julianne Boyd in her final season as that theater’s artistic director.

And New York Theater Workshop, an Off Broadway nonprofit, is close to confirming plans for a production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” directed by Maria Friedman, for late next year.

Plus, of course, the Steven Spielberg-directed movie remake of “West Side Story,” which Sondheim wrote the lyrics for, is already generating awards buzz in advance of its release on Friday. (“I think it’s just great,” Sondheim said of the film in an interview a few days before he died. He added, “The great thing about it is people who think they know the musical are going to have surprises.”)

A film version of “Follies” is also in the works; the script is “in active development,” according to a spokesman for the production company, Heyday Films.

Ben Sisario contributed to this report.





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