The death of Stephen Sondheim last month prompted an outpouring of emotion from across the theater industry and beyond. The legendary composer-lyricist, who is widely credited as one of the defining figures of modern musical theater, touched millions of people across the world through musicals including Follies, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. But he also had a more direct impact on many lives, because he was famously responsive to letters from fans.
Now, a new Instagram account has started to compile Sondheim's personal letters. The account, Sondheim Letters, launched last week and has already shared more than 100 posts, each one showing a different genuine piece of correspondence from Sondheim, on his elegant personal letterhead.
Some of the letters are recommendations, including the very first one shared by the account. In this letter, dated July 11, Sondheim writes a recommendation for the then-unknown playwright Jonathan Larson. As Broadway fans will know, Larson went on to create Broadway classics including Rent and the semi-autobiographical Tick, Tick... Boom!—which was just adapted into a Netflix feature by Lin Manuel Miranda.
Sondheim was famously supportive of his colleagues and of newcomers, and in many of the letters he congratulates playwrights, composers and musicians on their shows. One letter, to Chicago-based music director and performer Tom Vendafreddo, encapsulates Sondheim’s kindness and attention to detail.
“I just want to thank you for the herculean job you did of playing the piano Thursday night,” Sondheim wrote in the letter dated May 6, 2014. “The music was always crisp, clear, rhythmically alive and true to the style, both mine and the period’s. Thank you so much.”
“I have no idea whether we met or not, as I’m always mortified on such occasions and becomes blind, deaf and insensitive, but I want to make sure that you know how happy I was at the sound of the score.”
In another letter, from 1982, Sondheim congratulates Howard Ashman on his then-new show Little Shop of Horrors, correctly predicting that it will become "a huge success'.
Other letters in the collection simply see Sondheim responding graciously to fans, or sending well wishes to high school productions of his musicals. Others are more comical, including one where Sondheim politely corrects the letter-writer: "I am not the composer of A Chorus Line. Sorry.")
As the account's bio explains, all of the correspondence shared on Sondheim Letters is either publicly available, or has been shared by its recipient. And based on the sheer volume that's already been posted in less than a week, there's plenty more to come.
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