Tributes poured in last night for Stephen Sondheim, the genius behind some of Broadway’s greatest musicals who has died aged 91.

Sondheim was only 27 years old when West Side Story became his first big hit. He continued delighting New York audiences for over 60 decades.

F Richard Pappas his friend, a lawyer and the author of Send In The Clowns was suddenly taken from us at our Connecticut home yesterday morning.

Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute the “musical theatre giant” who inspired three generations.

Cameron Mackintosh was the creator of Cats and Les Miserables. He said that the theatre had lost one its most brilliant minds and that the world had lost one its best and most innovative writers. It is sad to say that there is now an enormous in the air.

Elaine Paige, who was a star in Follies’ Broadway debut in 2011, called him “one of the greatest musical theatre giants our generation”. Josh Gad, actor and voice of Olaf from Disney’s Frozen, tweeted: “Not since April 23rd 1616 has theatre lost so much of a revolutionary voice.”

Christopher Stevens, the Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens examines the life and times of America’s most celebrated songwriters…

Theatres around the world will be dimming their lights in salute to Stephen Sondheim, the most influential figure of the modern stage. The news was shared by Broadway star Josh Gad, who compared Sondheim to Shakespeare.

That’s scarcely an exaggeration, or even original – in 2017, the New York Times placed him beside not only the Bard, but Picasso and Dickens too.

His musical theater creations range from West Side Story, to the epic fairytale tale extravaganza Into the Woods. His principles were not compromised or his talent lost. He was rooted in avant-garde and used innovations in classical music and modern jazz to make stage musicals serious art.

Stephen Sondheim, with stars including Meryl Streep at the premiere of Into the Woods

Stephen Sondheim with Meryl Steep and other stars at the Premiere of Into the Woods

The Oxford Companion to Popular Music stated that Sondheim “moves within an area that bears little relationship to the happenings-on in the pop world to which Andrew Lloyd Webber lends an eye to” thirty years ago.

Because of his tireless efforts to explore and challenge audiences with complex music, many of his shows did not succeed in the box office or were critical failures when he was younger. He was still considered the greatest composer of his time, even though he died yesterday.

Most of the timeless entries in the Great American Songbook needed two writers, a tunesmith and a lyricist – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, or George and Ira Gershwin, for example.

Sondheim did his work alone. But he achieved his first success with words only, supplying the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957 – a reworking of the Romeo and Juliet love story set in contemporary New York.

Sondheim became a household name with a 1961 movie that featured Natalie Wood playing Maria. Steven Spielberg will direct the next release of this film.

Perhaps his best-known song, certainly for casual listeners, is Send In The Clowns – a favourite for both Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand.

It was written for his 1973 musical A Little Night Music – a deceptively frivolous title for a production that adapted Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night for the stage. Sondheim was born to a Jewish couple, who made clothes in New York pre-war before they divorced. Sondheim was an alone child whose mother imagined a military life for him.

In 1940, he was ten years old when he was transferred to New York Military Academy. However, his talent for music grew exponentially in his teens as a result of his writing skills.

His ambitions were resentful to his mother, who was always critical of him. He wrote her a long letter to express regret at giving birth. In 1992 she died. He didn’t attend her funeral.

Oscar Hammerstein was his surrogate dad. Hammerstein, the father of a friend and songwriter of The Sound of Music’s lyrics, saw his talents and encouraged him towards full-length musicals. Sondheim attempted Mary Poppins in his earliest days, but it was never performed. Hammerstein encouraged Sondheim to take the opportunity to create the West Side Story lyrics after they met at a party. He promised that he would have the chance to compose music later.

He achieved his first success with words only, supplying the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story in 1957. Pictured: Spielberg's adaptation of the musical, released next month

His first major success was with only words, when he wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1956. Pictured is Spielberg’s musical adaptation, due out next month

In 1959, Sondheim was the lyricist for Gypsy. This film tells the story of Gypsy Rose Lee and Gypsy Porter, who both declined the role.

However, he wanted to create scores. Follies was his big hit in 1971.

In the 1970s, he continued it with ambitious productions like Pacific Overtures that featured Japanese Kabuki stylings and Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

1987’s Into The Woods established his fame as a great composer in the theatre. For the final decades of his existence, he was often praised and feted.

He was an uncompromising perfectionist who would never admit to ever being satisfied with his work. I Feel Pretty was one of his most beloved songs. He said, “It’s alarming just how charming I feel.”

That didn’t sound like a working-class Puerto Rican girl, he fretted – it belonged in a Noel Coward number.

Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom in 2015 to Sondheim. He stated that Stephen “reinvented” the American musical. Over six decades, he has been a major figure in theatre.

Sondheim is a performer, a writer, and an artist.

“His biggest hits aren’t songs you can hum, they’re reflections about roads we didn’t travel, wishes that went wrong, broken relationships, and hopes so strained there’s no other option but to send in the clowns.