Stephen Sondheim is arguably the most important theatrical composer-lyricist in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Building on the framework created by such early musical theater figures as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, he has been responsible for redefining stage musicals in the last three decades. Subjects that were not considered viable (i.e., the opening of Japan to the West, a Victorian murder-revenge story) have in Sondheim's hands become groundbreaking shows that have moved the American musical forward. While Broadway no longer reflects American popular music (in the way that Tin Pan Alley songs of the early half of this century did), Sondheim's shows occupy a special place. He has transcended cult status to challenge audiences' expectations and as Broadway has moved toward spectacle (notably the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber), his shows have become more intimate.