It wasn’t until Sondheim teamed with director and producer Hal Prince that he resumed his stride. One can only envy those who saw the run of Sondheim shows that began in 1970 with Company and climaxed with Sweeney Todd in 1979. The decade completed Sondheim’s transformation from apprentice to prodigy to subversive master of the traditionalist idiom to mold-shattering innovator.
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: