Sondheim honoured with B’way theatre

New York: Stephen Sondheim has received a belated birthday gift: his name on a Broadway theatre.

The 1,055-seat venue on West 43rd Street that had been named after actor-producer Henry Miller was formally renamed Wednesday night and had its marquee lit in Sondheim`s honour. He turned 80 in March.

"I`m deeply embarrassed. I`m thrilled, but deeply embarrassed," said Sondheim, who teared up as the sun fell over dozens of clapping admirers in Times Square. "I`ve always hated my last name. It just doesn`t sing."

Joining the Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist of such shows as "Company" and "Follies" were Sondheim`s long-time collaborators Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane and John Weidman.

"He is a true gentleman of the theatre, a theatrical legend," Lane said. "I have to say — don`t take this the wrong way — this is so much more moving to christen a theatre the Stephen Sondheim as opposed to the British Petroleum Playhouse."

LuPone hailed Sondheim as a brilliant teacher who made her a better singer: "Singing one of Steve`s scores is always difficult, but always, once achieved, a great accomplishment," she said.

The original theatre opened April 1, 1918. Among its hit tenants were the anti-war drama "Journey`s End" in 1929 and Thornton Wilder`s "Our Town" in 1938. The venue was abandoned as a legitimate Broadway theatre after 51 years and later suffered disrepair, becoming an adult movie house, a disco and later a dance hall.

The Roundabout Theatre Company reclaimed the space for its 1998 Tony-winning revival of "Cabaret." The musical "Urinetown" later moved into the space before it underwent a massive renovation in which a new, environmentally friendly theatre was constructed behind the restored neo-Georgian facade.

The 50,000-square-foot theatre reopened last year as a joint venture of the Durst Organization and Bank of America, and is being leased by the nonprofits Roundabout. "The Pee-Wee Herman Show" will be the first production in the new Sondheim theatre, followed by the Cole Porter romp "Anything Goes" with Sutton Foster.

"I honestly can`t think of any other artist who has done more for musical theatre or who deserves this honour more," said Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes.

The theatre dedication is just the latest tribute celebrating the birthday of a man who reshaped America`s musical theatre. There have been productions of "A Little Night Music" and "Sondheim on Sondheim" on Broadway, as well as a birthday concert by the New York Philharmonic. The Roundabout put on a star-studded tribute in March and a production of the composer`s "Passion" has begun at London`s Donmar Warehouse.

Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," has won Tony Awards for the scores of "Passion," "Into the Woods," "Sweeney Todd," "A Little Night Music," "Follies" and "Company." His "Sunday in the Park with George" was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Bureau Report