Revered American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will be honoured with the 2011 Special Award at the Olivier Awards with MasterCard on 13 March.
One of only a handful of Americans to be given a Special Award, Sondheim joins an illustrious list of previous recipients including British theatrical luminaries Harold Pinter, Ralph Richardson, Ian McKellen, Peter Hall, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier himself.
The honour tops off a year of celebrations in London’s Theatreland for the composer’s 80th birthday, the centrepiece of which was a festival at the Donmar Warehouse featuring a revival of his 1994 musical Passion, which is nominated for three Olivier Awards this year.
Sondheim will fly in from the US to collect the famous bronze statuette in person at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in front of an audience of celebrity guests, industry figures and theatregoers. The glamorous ceremony will conclude with a special tribute to the composer, featuring star performers including Adrian Lester, who won an Olivier Award for his performance in Sondheim’s Company in 1995.
A legendary and unique talent whose work has shaped musical theatre on both sides of the Atlantic, Sondheim received his big break, aged 27, writing the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Following his first success as composer and lyricist of 1962’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Sondheim went on to produce a prolific body of work that includes Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods, Assassins, Passion and Bounce.
With his intellectual, sophisticated lyrics and beautiful music, Sondheim’s work has inspired performers and directors all over the world. In particular, London’s love affair with the composer has produced several acclaimed productions in the last few years, including last summer’s staging of Into The Woods at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre – nominated for two awards at this year’s ceremony – and Sunday In The Park With George, which collected five Olivier Awards in 2007.
Sondheim’s numerous accolades include the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sunday In The Park With George and six Best Score Tony Awards, while his composition Sooner Or Later for the film Dick Tracy earned him an Academy Award for Best Song in 1999.
Theatregoers can still buy tickets to the ceremony, but those who don’t can watch proceedings live on the BBC Red Button, listen to full coverage on BBC Radio 2 or follow the event at www.olivierawards.com