In a new authorized biography of Stephen Sondheim, the renowned composer and lyricist talks openly for the first time about being gay.

According to Sondheim's Website (www.sondheim.com), the multiple Tony winner agreed to talk with Meryle Secrest for the book because--although he finds such attention "flattering and embarrassing"--he would rather "have someone intelligent around so I can steer her to the proper sources and, without interfering, to be sure everything is true rather than speculative."

"It was never easy being a homosexual," says the somewhat reclusive creator of such shows as West Side Story, Company, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George in the bio due this summer from Knopf. He talks about his early years in the New York stage scene when "everybody knew the theater was full of homosexuals, but nobody admitted to being so."

In recent years, however, Broadway has been ahead of the trend in acknowledging and accepting sexual preferences. Way before the Ellen era many a Tony nominee came to the awards show with a longtime companion, and more than one winner has openly acknowledged a same-sex lover in a thank-you speech.

It has long been known that Sondheim was gay, but he admits that for many years he tried to keep his close friends and family from learning about his sexuality. (Although the late actress Lee Remick reportedly knew, it didn't prevent them considering marriage.)

Now 68, Sondheim says, "I was sexually very late-blooming...I think people tried to make passes at me, and I didn't know what they were doing."

Sondheim grew up in Pennsylvania. His parents were divorced when he was young, and in the new bio, he discusses his destructive relationship with mother Foxy. He says she badmouthed his father and ignored him, except when acting seductively toward him. Sondheim turned to a neighbor, legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (who with Richard Rodgers created such musicals as Carousel and South Pacific) as a father figure. Hammerstein inspired Sondheim's career, which took off when he wrote the lyrics for 1957's West Side Story.

That classic musical contains the song "Somewhere"--a very popular tune in gay bars of the era. But, in The Gay Metropolis by Charles Kaiser, a social history of gay New York, Sondheim reacted angrily when asked if there is anything gay about the lyrics. "If you think that is a gay song, then all songs about getting away from the realities of life are gay songs," Sondheim said.

The composer is reportedly working on Wise Guys, a vaudevillian-type musical about the gold-digging Mizner brothers whose ambitions took them from the Klondike to Florida and Hollywood.

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