A legion of Broadway stars swarmed Times Square Sunday to sing a swan song for industry legend Stephen Sondheim.
The 91-year-old theater legend died on Nov. 26 and was renowned for his lyrical work on such stage musicals as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods and West Side Story, and through his long tenure gained such distinctions as receiving six Tony awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama, an Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize and five Olivier Awards.
Leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of those he worked alongside, Sondheim’s extended Broadway family assembled on the red steps where they hosted a musical memorial entitled “Sunday” on Sunday, from his lyrical composition Sunday in the Park with George with cast members from Ain’t too Proud, Wicked, Diana the Musical, and the cast from various Broadway companies in Father Duffy Square.
“This was a group full of luminaries,” said Erich Bergen, who helped develop and coordinate the event. “I think what a day like today shows is that not only is New York City back and better than ever, but it is ready, willing, and able to turn the lights on and inspire people. Broadway is New York’s most important product. It is art but it is also commerce and the fact that things like this can happen by me making a few phone calls and a few tweets basically means that these are the most talented people in the world. The most talented people in the world were standing here today and they are ready for tourists, near and far to come to New York and fill our theatres again. Today we did it in tribute to Stephen Sondheim of course, but I think days like today shows that there’s nothing better than Broadway theater.”
Becoming emotional, tears streamed from the star-studded ensemble as they bellowed the tune. Prior to the rendition of “Sunday,” Lin-Manuel Miranda read aloud excerpts from “Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics” by Sondheim, which caused the Hamilton titan to shed tears of his own.
“In this show, it was the word forever in ‘Sunday.’ I was suddenly moved by the contemplation of what these people would have thought if they’d known they would be immortalized and in a major way. The great painting. I still cry when I think about it, but then I cry at Animal Planet,” Miranda read.
Hundreds of New Yorkers squeezed themselves around the performance area in order to be a small part of the historic send-off, and although it only lasted a few minutes, the large crowd was not disappointed.
“There were a lot of people here today who are not actors. These are people who call the light cues and all the sound cues and shows. He inspired just about everyone who’s ever stepped foot into a theater,” Bergen said.
In addition to Broadway cast members, star-studded icons such as Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, paid their respects by lending their talents to the celebration.
Erin Davie, an actress who plays Camilla Parker Bowles in Diana: The Musical, described Sondheim as the master of theater, a man whose influence on the musical world is simply unquantifiable.
“Everybody is inspired and affected and have gained something from Stephen Sondheim. He was the master,” Davie said, adding that she will never forget standing in the middle of Times Square singing “Sunday” with the Broadway community.
Bryan Terrell Clark was taken aback by the sheer splendor and beauty of the performance. After the showcase, the actor described the pain and mourning of such a loss in the industry, something that will have an insurmountable effect on theater.
“Stephen Sondheim, we call him the Shakespeare of musical theater. He truly was. It was the most beautiful music our industry has had,” Clark said.
Since the announcement of his passing, fans have started to leave candles, flowers, and small memorabilia in honor of his life outside of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on West 43rd Street.