The Debut of the Master Songwriter
Sondheim had been informally tutored by Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein was one of the foremost lyricists of the first half 20th century, writing the book and lyrics to such classic musicals as Oklahoma, Carousel, and The King and I. Sondheim describes Hammerstein as a "surrogate father" who mentored the young Sondheim in his teenage years.
In the song "America", he faced a challenge. He wanted to make sure the lyrics were understood by the audience but also sought to keep the flair and speed of the song. In his own book of collected lyrics he writes of this song: "Some lines of this lyric are respectably sharp and crisp, but some melt in the mouth as gracelessly as peanut butter..."
In 1962, Prince produced Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but the two mostly worked with other collaborators throughout the 1960s. Starting in 1970, though, the two joined forces again, this time with Prince as director, to create many of the ground-breaking workings of 20th-century musical theatre including Company, Follies, and Sweeney Todd,
Curated by Misy Singson, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Photographs by: Friedman-Abeles, Martha Swope & Florence Vandamm.
Sources: Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim.