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Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes [Hardcover]

Stephen Sondheim
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 26 2010
Stephen Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Academy Award, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theater and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat—titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George—Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a rare personal look into his life as well as his remarkable productions.

Along with the lyrics for all of his musicals from 1954 to 1981—including West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd—Sondheim treats us to never-before-published songs from each show, songs that were cut or discarded before seeing the light of day. He discusses his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with extraordinary talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, Harold Prince and a panoply of others. The anecdotes—filled with history, pointed observations and intimate details—transport us back to a time when theater was a major pillar of American culture. Best of all, Sondheim appraises his work and dissects his lyrics, as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insights into songwriting that will be studied by fans and aspiring songwriters for years to come.

Accompanying Sondheim’s sparkling writing are behind-the-scenes photographs from each production, along with handwritten music and lyrics from the songwriter’s personal collection.

Penetrating and surprising, poignant, funny and sometimes provocative, Finishing the Hat is not only an informative look at the art and craft of lyric writing, it is a history of the theater that belongs on the same literary shelf as Moss Hart’s Act One and Arthur Miller’s Timebends. It is also a book that will leave you humming the final bars of Merrily We Roll Along, while eagerly anticipating the next volume, which begins with the opening lines of Sunday in the Park with George.

Frequently Bought Together

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes + Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany
Price For Both: CDN$ 62.70

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"Finishing the Hat is a show stopper! If you love Stephen Sondheim, hate him, or never even heard of him, you'll still have a great ride—so take it! This book is filled with humor, controversy, stories about talented and glamorous people and, above all, life. And his lyrics! Everything you've ever wanted to know—about anything—is in those lyrics." —Phyllis Newman
 “There is so much to be learned and appreciated from Finishing the Hat. It's filled with fascinating, entertaining, unique and compelling lessons from a man who encompasses the essence of what is truly great about American Musical Theatre.” —Michael Feinstein
“Just as Stephen Sondheim is, without dispute, THE master lyricist for the theater of our generation (not to mention his superb music!), he now has written THE book on the art and craft of lyric writing. It is a book that will enrich and entertain anyone with an interest in music and theater, either as a life’s work or a life’s pleasure. It is like no other writing on the subject. It is Sondheim.” —Alan & Marilyn Bergman
“Seeing my first Sondheim musical, Follies, I was like the farm girl brought to the Homes of Tomorrow exhibit; breathless, nose pressed to the glass. This book takes the glass away. It’s a thrill to experience these shows again with Steve as your guide. What a gift to the theatre this book is! For actors, it's a must. For lyricists, it a primer.” —Joanna Gleason
“The book is a masterpiece. There never has been and never will be one like it. It is about the grain of sand that produces the pearl and is indeed as honest and simple as that pearl. If you pay attention to this book you could learn how to write a song, though not a great song. That is forever mysterious as genius will always be. The main lesson is that this particular genius is dead practical. All the hocus pocus attached to art has no meaning in the mind of Sondheim. You must read it to see what does matter to him and you will marvel and read it again. And then again.” —Mike Nichols
“Stephen Sondheim’s book can be read for pleasure, information, wisdom, humor or inspiration; all of the pleasures I received. Or because it tells a few secrets about how genius works.” —Stanley Donen

About the Author

Stephen Sondheim has written award-winning music and lyrics for theater, film and television. He is also the coauthor of the film The Last of Sheila and the play Getting Away with Murder. Sondheim is on the council of the Dramatists Guild of America, having served as its president from 1973 to 1981. He lives in New York City.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars sondheim commenting on sondheim June 3 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Who better to do so? with a lot of extra notes on other composers lyricists writers with explanations of why he thinks so. A real gem in the field of critical analysis of theatre. PLUS some fun gossip!
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5.0 out of 5 stars For all Sondheim Fans Everywhere! Jan. 30 2012
By Maxisback TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a superb book with pictures of the original casts, posters and Mr. Sondheim. He is candid in his writing, and his lyrics are made more wonderful by the music that either he or others wrote. If you love Sondheim, then this book is definitely for you!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About as close to genius as one can get. Jan. 1 2011
By One singular sensation... TOP 500 REVIEWER
"Finishing the Hat" is a perfect read, except for the title which is from a show not covered in this volume. But it does sum up a great deal of what a brilliant mind like Sondheim's goes through to produce the musical miracles that he does. I loved every moment.The lyrics alone are worth any price, but the insights are so stupendously insightful that they leave one almost breathless as one reads and rereads just to catch a precious glimmer of the struggles and successes that are Sondheim at his best...which he almost always is. That is my one complaint about the book; he is too critical of himself. There are songs that he seems to find little in to praise, but I could listen to them forever. Cynical - "I'm Still Here", "The Ladies Who Lunch" or sentimental - "Send in the Clowns", "So Many People" - this is like discovering Aladdin's treasure; sometimes rediscovering them with so much to cherish. Some of his songs slip into the shadows, but are here lovingly gathered up and brought back into one's mind and heart - "The Road You Didn't Take", "Another Hundred People". I think I'd happily give up a year of my life to spend one hour talking to this unique master of the music of the theatre, and explorer into the very souls of us all.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, entertaining Dec 29 2010
By Sheldon
Reading Mr. Sondheim's insightful and informative prose is very entertaining. I enjoyed the "inside" scoop on his collaborators, peers and other Broadway types. His meticulous attention to detail as he converts character into lyric is fascinating. I wish he had spent more time describing some of his music compositional techniques and how these, wedded with the lyrics, produced the great works he writes about.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  80 reviews
103 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture vultures, prepare to feast! Oct. 26 2010
By Susan Tunis - Published on Amazon.com
If you are lucky, you will discover artists whose work speaks to you in a very profound way. For me, it's the paintings of Henri Matisse, the novels of John Irving, the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. I'm an unabashed fan.

Mr. Sondheim's new coffee table book, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes, is a gift to us all. Before you even start reading the text, flip through it and you'll see that this is a gorgeous book. It is chock full of photographs--more than 200--many of them full page blowups. There are pictures and artwork from the productions, candid photos from Mr. Sondheim's personal collection, and images of his hand-written notes, lyrics, and sheet music. This book is richly and beautifully illustrated. The only small disappointment is that all images are black and white, but it is truly a minor complaint.

Once you've feasted your eyes, dive into the text. Almost immediately, you'll see that Mr. Sondheim has written his book with the care and precision with which he writes his songs. There's a slight formality to the tone (with the laying down of copious rules along the way), but at the same time, it's a very candid look at his work, his collaborators, his predecessors, and his life. For musicians or composers, there is much substantive information on his process. And for theater buffs like me, this book is a treasure! Mr. Sondheim's contributions are the apotheosis of musical theater. The shows recounted are theatrical history. Sadly, I'm too young to have seen the original productions of any of these 13 shows, but now I've heard about the drama behind the scenes of Merrily We Roll Along straight from the horse's mouth. I know his two regrets from West Side Story, what he really thinks of theater critics, how he wanted to plot A Little Night Music, and the influence of Hammerstein's Allegro on his career. The truth is, there is just so much packed into this book, it is simply impossible to even begin to summarize the contents.

This book is specifically dedicated to Mr. Sondheim's lyrics, and what a joy it was to sing, er... I mean, read my way through them. To give you an idea of how comprehensive Finishing the Hat is, every lyric of every song from the original production of Follies is included. Nine songs cut from the show are included, along with the reasons behind the changes. A revised lyric for a later London production is included. And altered versions of "I'm Still Here" (for Barbara Streisand and for the film Postcards from the Edge) are included. And always Mr. Sondheim's thoughts, observations, and occasional criticisms are shared, often through the use of extensive footnotes.

The book ends at Merrily, 423 pages in, with a provocative statement and the word INTERMISSION. This is indeed the intermission between the volumes of Mr. Sondheim's collected lyrics/memoir, the second of which will encompass the remainder of his storied career. I can only hope the second book is well into its production. As excited as I was to get my hands on this book, it is truly more than I could have hoped for. In the end, it's a fitting testament to an immense talent.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable Nov. 2 2010
By W. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have sat, transfixed, for the previous 2 1/2 days reading this book from cover to cover. Every line is a gem, a brilliant insight to be savored and reflected upon. If you have ever wanted direct access to the mind of one of art's greatest creators, this is it.
60 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Silvery grey type makes a magnificent book of lyrics hard to read. Nov. 13 2010
By neophyte - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dear Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Knopf: Please use a different art director for volume two. Ms. Iris Weinstein, art director for "Finishing the Hat," has not followed any of Mr. Sondheim's three principles. Number one: "Content dictates form - if so, the content thereby should be easily readable as "Finishing the Hat" is a book of lyrics. Number two: "God is in the details," -if so, he/she will be very unhappy with the details of the silvery grey type. Ms. Weinstein should also not get credit for Mr. Sondheim's third principle "Less is More," becauser in this case, less is definitely not more. If anyone has any ideas (other than a magnifying glass) to make the type more readable, please send it ASAP.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the ocularly challenged. Dec 30 2010
By Byrnejo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I looked forward to receiving this book and was therefore particularly disappointed when it arrived and I found the faint type face and the font size inadequate . I have had great difficulty in reading it even with my reading glasses, and so I have given up. How an experienced firm like Knopf can make this basic mistake, I don't know. I wrote to them about it, and I have not heard from them. This either means they have appalling public relations, or they recognised the truth of what I had to say to them and did not want to acknowledge it. They should supply a magnifying glass with each copy! How could they do this to a genius like Stephen Sondheim!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Huh. I wonder what Sondheim thinks of the finished product? Dec 29 2010
By John Spritz - Published on Amazon.com
It must drive him crazy that there are a few typo's or typographical meanderings along the way. The sort of top-of-the-Statue-of-Liberty thing that he focuses on. But that's just a quibble.

This is a dandy book for those of us who have, any time since the '60s or so, become infected with the Sondheim illness. Plenty to think about, carp about, admire. New photos to ponder. New versions of songs to ruminate over. A teeny-weeny part of me feels sorry for the guy, in that he seems to have so spend some amount of energy responding to preconceptions and conceptions about him. Must be exhausting.

One thought, upon finishing it: how rare and wonderful that a major practitioner of a given art (or craft, as he would insist) is also an astute and acute critic and surveyor of said art/craft. You think Harnick or Ebb or Porter or Hart or Loesser or any of them could/can write so incisively about their peers, their predecessors, how they all fit together, how they rank, how they shine (or don't), where the faults lie, where the untapped gems lurk? Nope. So we are lucky to have had Sondheim writing shows and just as lucky that he can talk to us about how it all happens, both for him and for others.

I didn't find the type hard to read, as others did, and I don't know about the photos shmearing off -- I read it while wearing kid gloves, naturally.
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