Sondheim!

A summer festival showcases the wit and artistry of the musical-theater master, drawing "nuts" from all over

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One of the rewarding things about being a Sondheim nut is the joy of rediscovery. Little brilliancies sometimes go by so fast or in such a multitude you miss them on the first pass. I’ve had the record of Company for years, but only when I saw the Kennedy Center production did I catch the “personable / coercin’ a bull” rhyme from “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”:

When a person’s personality is personable,

He shouldn’t oughta sit like lump.

It’s harder than a matador coercin’ a bull

To try to get you off of your rump...

Or take the 1971 show, Follies, a monumental valentine to a bygone era of Broadway. For the London production, Sondheim wrote a song called “Ah, But Underneath,” a sort of emotional striptease that contains a stanza culminating in a giddy trifecta of rhymes:

In the depths of her interior

Were fears she was inferior

And something even eerier

But no one dared to query’er superior exterior…

And then there’s “A Little Priest,” the boggling waltz from Sweeney Todd. If not the wittiest duet ever written (I’d love to hear one better), it’s inarguably the wittiest ever written about cannibalism. Its lip-smacking rhymes flesh out the culinary delights of dishes that one might prepare out of London’s heterogeneous population, including “shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top” and “politician so oily it’s served on a doily.”

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