They are sharing out Stephen Sondheim’s $75 million estate

They are sharing out Stephen Sondheim’s $75 million estate


norman lebrecht

January 24, 2022

The master of stage musicals, who died in November, left an estate worth $75 million, according to papers filed at Manhattan Surrogate’s court.

Under a will signed in 2017,  beneficiaries will consist of 20 individuals and charities. They include his husband Jeffrey Romley, the Smithsonian Institute, Museum of New York City, Library of Congress, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Dramatists Guild Fund and the Irish Repertory Theater Company.






  • Frank says:

    such a large estate – one wonders how and who….

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Andrew Lloyd Webber is worth more than ten times that amount….

      • EagleArts says:

        And yet is a composer ten times less in stature.

      • James Weiss says:

        Which only proves that garbage sells. Lloyd Webber’s dreck is awful.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yes, it is awful – but it’s a reflection of audiences rather than the composer himself. He has felt spurred on by the enthusiastic demand for his operas, rock operas, operettas, musicals (tick appropriate box).

          • Bill Ecker says:

            Correct, Sondheim wrote for himself first before the audience which he obviously took into consideration, Webber writes music for the masses, what the public wants from him.

            I use Sir Arthur Sullivan as a barometer in an instance like this. Sullivan is remembered for his Topsy Turvy operettas that were written for the public. He bemoaned the fact that his grand opera “Ivanhoe” and his “Irish” Symphony were never the successes of his operettas. While I don’t think Sondheim passed away unfulfilled, far from it, he in fact did have some hits, however, his compositions many which were entirely of his own device including unusual meters, keys, etc.

            Another example is Harold Arlen, nothing he put on the Broadway stage where he was the sole composer worked. However, the songs he wrote for the Cotton Club and Hollywood were massive hits. There are other examples, but those came immediately to mind.

      • Elsie says:

        How much better to be remembered for writing songs that are ten times more memorable than those of Andrew Lloyd Webber even though it meant leaving just one tenth of his wealth.

      • Koz says:

        But Sondheim’s catalog is worth 10 times Lloyd Webber’s.

        • Save the MET says:

          You say that based upon what information? I am a sondheim fan, but while Sondheim had two major hits with “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” as a librettist and some big hits with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “A Little Night Music”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods”, in box office sales and record sales, his works are not the big hits of Lloyd Webber. “Phantom of the Opera”, “Evita” and “Cats” alone dwarf Sondheim’s 5 listed above. I get that you are a Sondheim fan, but the numbers tell a different story.

      • Webber may HAVE a larger estate but he isn’t WORTH more if you use his music as judge.

      • Bill says:

        That’s good to know, thanks!

      • Tiredofitall says:

        This is just a statement of fact, not a comment on artistic merit.

        • Alan Glick says:

          “This is just a statement of fact, not a comment on artistic merit.”

          It is definitely not a fact that Weber is “worth” more than Sondheim. It would be accurate to say that he “has” more than Sondheim.

      • Nick2 says:

        Another silly comment! ALW wrote music that translated into hit songs and helped create demand in advance of the premiere of the shows. He was also exceedingly fortunate to work on CATS and Phantom of the Opera with the most astute producer of the last quarter of the 21st century, Cameron Macintosh. Macintosh is a marketing genius. He had also realised the value of cloning musicals. So what audiences saw in New York, Tokyo, Sydney and elsewhere was virtually identical to the original London productions without the cost of creating totally new productions.

        CATS and Phantom may have made ALW well in excess of $100 million alone. But as a composer of musicals, even he admits the 7 or so he wrote after Phantom in 1986 have all been flops. The movies of his shows have also been financial flops, none more so than the ghastly CATS which even ALW admits he hated and, despite writing a new song for the movie, he has sought totally to distance himself from its creation.

        ALW panders to popular taste. Sondheim was a creator of musical art.

    • SunnyEd says:

      How? Easy, write a dozen critically acclaimed shows that are continuously performed all over the word. Nothing complicated or nefarious about it.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You’ve got to be joking; there’s no way $75M is a large estate. I’m surprised it wasn’t much more, to be honest.

    • Nick2 says:

      What a ridiculous comment! He wrote 16 Broadway shows and the lyrics for another 3. For each he will have received royalties, often as both composer and lyricist.

      His shows are vastly better that those of composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whereas ALW usually wrote the music first, his lyricists then had to fit words to the music. Sondheim on the other hand created wonderful lyrics to which he then crafted wonderful music. But they did not use flashy subjects with massively flashy scenery. So most did not enjoy long runs.

      Still, as lyricist and composer, he enjoyed two sets of royalties on all his shows. The original Broadway production of West Side Story ran for nearly 1,000 performances and was followed by 1,039 performances in the West End.

      It has had endless revivals in both countries and other parts of the world, including no less than 5 in Australia. Add into that mix the royalties from the first movie for cinema, video and tv releases. To say nothing about possible profits from investing some of that income. I am surprised his estate was not worth more.

  • Akutagawa says:

    He was worth every cent.

  • Campdmg says:

    But is not nearly as brilliant.

  • drummerman says:

    Do we know whether these organizations will continue to share in all future royalties?

  • JD says:

    Really, 75 million… I just don’t believe that he had wealth in the vicinity of that amount. His shows all lost money on Broadway except WSS. I think that this is a gross overstatement.

    • D says:

      True enough, but the shows live on in regional, amateur, and school productions, and the cumulative annual royalties, though perhaps not vast, have likely been enough to live off quite comfortably. But more to the point, there were the lucrative movie deals, and let’s please remember he was born on Central Park West and came from money, quite apart from what he earned.

    • Gus says:

      West Side Story alone would make a ton, with two movies and continual performances. Then the Hollywood movies of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods would have been big money.

      Record sales too, from various Send in the Clowns performances, including Sinatra, Streisand, Count Basie, and so on.

      Just speculating here but I can personally believe it.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Good, solid investments and living to a ripe old age most definitely help when you have assets. He may have had a very savvy financial adviser whom he could trust (rare as hen’s teeth). Good for him and his beneficiaries!!

    • JB says:

      A NY Times article states that the value of the estate is somewhere between $500k and $75M which is quite a wide range:

      I think I read in the Sondheim biography by M. Secrest that he signed away parts of his rights on WSS and that therefore this hasn’t made him rich. The original productions of his shows indeed lost money, but then this was the producer’s loss. I suppose Sondheim nevertheless received his composer/lyricist royalties.

  • Maria Titova says:

    Wonderful music, lots of money, but alas no progeny. Still he lived a happy and fulfilling life.

    • D says:

      His progeny is his shows, and all of the composers and lyricists who learned from and were inspired by him.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Great comment!! Same for Cole Porter.

        (“Oh, I give no quarter to Kern or Cole Porter and Gershwin is pounding on tin”) – sorry couldn’t resist quoting a non-Sondheim ditty by the Gershwin brothers!!

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    I wonder how much Mozart would be worth had he lived now.

  • Mama Rose says:

    How about 88 bucks for me?

  • BigSir says:

    Why would anyone give money to so many government institutions? What a waste. Give to arts organizations that rely on private funding.

  • David says:

    Other news sights have said $108million shared between 12 people and charities. Whole estate goes into a trust from which they’ll get paid.