The book, along with its companion, is fantastic and amazingly insightful. I was disappointed, however, to find that they arrived in a fairly beat-up condition, despite having been purchased new. The packaging used was not sturdy enough to handle being shipped, I guess. Still, a great purchase! Sondheim's genius is evident from page 1, and his insights into his own work and the work of others are always incredible.
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Most of the work of Stephen Sondheim that I love and deeply admire, is covered in the first splendid volume, "Finishing the Hat". "Follies", "A Little Night Music", "Company", "Sweeney Todd" are all treasures from the theatre that should be revived whenever the times change or something new is seen in them that audiences, not the creators, missed before. Even "Anyone Can Whistle", with major rewriting to create a character, not caricature, for the mayor and remove the last scene from Act One, would stand the test of time. So we come to volume two, which I feared would be a falling off. It is not. There is no fantastic great show to anchor the book, though "Merrily We Roll Along" finally makes complete sense and has harmony, something not even the best production I have seen has been able to bring to life. And "Road Show"? I still don't like it though I have listened to the CD five times now. But at last I understand what different forces were at work here. And though I don't like it, Sondheim has led me to appreciate it. So the book is a learning experience, and a very necessary one if the theatre-goer wants to truly understand Sondheim and his phenomenal body of work. "Finishing the Hat" leads us into his magic and lets us glimpse him at work; "Look, I Made a Hat", continues the journey, not to any conclusion, but to a myriad of marvellous places, each an insight into ourselves. What more can a book do?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
48 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Art Isn't Easy, IndeedNov. 29 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
As a Sondheim fan (though not as monomaniacally worshipful as some) I have positive but not unmixed feelings about this book, as I did about the previous volume, Finishing the Hat. Overall I'd highly recommend both, in fact think they are invaluable for anyone interested at all in American musical theatre. But to the old expression that children, law, and sausage are three things one should not watch being made, I might add a fourth: art. As with the first book, I sometimes shook my head in dismay and wonderment, asking myself, "was that REALLY what you were thinking when you wrote ...?" I was so disappointed to find that the wittiest line in West Side Story was not an intentional play on words, but a compromise because SS couldn't drop an f-bomb. ("Krup you" is witty. The f-bomb wouldn't even have been funny.) The letdown in this volume was to find that the shooting-gallery setting in Assassins (my favourite of his works) was in the source material, not Sondheim's invention. In sum, if you approach the book believing that Sondheim really is God, and that art springs whole and perfect like Athena from Zeus's brow, expect to be disillusioned. Art is work, and work is often drudgery. (If you have ever even tried to write, though, you'll smile wryly and often laugh out loud.)
Buy this book especially for the section on Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show. The Mizners and Sondheim were like Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar: He just couldn't quit them. This lengthy section is a great detailed case study of how a musical gets put together, taken apart, put together again. Theatre is a collaborative art, perhaps the ultimate collaborative art, and collaboration invariably involves compromises, with other artists, with the material, with the audience. (At times reading this section is like being in a car collision: you can see it coming in slow motion, you know what's happening, and yet you can't stop the momentum. Ultimately the mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse: the cast recordings of Road Show and Bounce, like Saturday Night, are for Sondheim completists.)
If you're seriously interested in the art of creating musical theatre, you'd do well to seek out the source material Sondheim helpfully identifies, to gain greater insight into the process of shaping and reshaping a story as it changes media -- what changed, what didn't, how music interacted with the material. (This is especially the case with Passion. Same story, three utterly different takes.)
At the outset, Sondheim promises us that he will not discuss his love life. Thank you, Mr Sondheim: I, for one, am far less interested in sex, which anyone can do, than in Assassins, which only Sondheim could have done.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Reaching through the world of the hatDec 5 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
This second (and final) volume sees Sondheim amend some of the omissions in his last book, and of course is a study of his lyrical contributions from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE to his most recent ROAD SHOW, with a litany of attendant side-notes that enhance and reveal his craft.
Other reviewers had noted that the greater part of this book examines the evolving developments of his WISE GUYS/BOUNCE/ROAD SHOW odyssey and this is devoid of any criticism of collaborators - a noble feat, considering the public spats and litigation that flowered this particular theatrical effort.
The essays in this book are less frequent than before, and his wonderful perceptions of the theatrical lyricists that colored his last endeavor are reduced to two minor articles in brief overview of some of the lesser-known practitioners like John La Touche and Hugh Martin. I could have done with more of these, as Sondheim has a natural facility for criticism. Other essays detail his views of his musical revivals and the tinkering that theatrical directors bring to them. "Critics and Their Uses" is a measured article that is less blasting than expected, considering the barrage of attack that he has been subjected to over the years. As the author is the winner of an Oscar, countless Tony awards and more significant achievements like the Pulitzer Prize, we are presented with a good and balanced article on the merit (or lack thereof) of winning and worth.
Some of the more obscure lyrics that Sondheim has written for friends and aborted projects are documented, and as the accompanying music is unknown, the reader has a chance to guess the tunes dictated by Sondheim's rhythmical meters and hear their own inner music. Also included are a little selection of his earliest (non-professional) work, and these are presented as an incentive to aspiring writers.
The epilogue is a rather moving piece recounting the toll that advancing years has had on his creative powers, and is a personal favorite of mine, as it reveals a little of the man behind one of the great geniuses this modern age has produced.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Look, I Made a HatDec 29 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
In terms of structure this second volume of Stephen Sondheim's collected lyrics is much like his first: after a one-paragraph summary of the show and an introductory note on its development from a concept to a full production, we get the lyrics, including cut songs and alternate versions, surrounded by just enough plot summary that the songs make sense and interspersed with annotations on the logic behind the songs, the stories behind them, the successes and failures (in Sondheim's eyes) of a line, a verse, a whole lyric. Short essays on general musical-theater themes appear in boxouts at intervals throughout. A few photos, all black-and-white, are nice enough but pale in comparison to the other images: reduced pages that show the original handwritten workings for various songs, with alternate readings crowding each other out. They aren't always fully legible, but the general insight into the evolution of a song is invaluable. On a larger level, the annotations and essays reveal aspects of the construction of a musical that even devotees of the form might not have considered. Sondheim's non-fiction voice, incisive, witty, and self-deprecating, is always entertaining.
What sets Look, I Made a Hat apart from volume one, Finishing the Hat, is that the included content is a little different. Where the earlier book featured thirteen full shows, including early classics like Gypsy and the extraordinary successes of the 1970s, this one covers only five. The reason it's nonetheless the same approximate length as the first book is that (1) one show (known variously as Wise Guys, Bounce, and Road Show) is presented in four versions and (2) there's a large selection of additional lyrics: pieces from unproduced shows, contributions to shows by others, songs from movies, songs for television, and a miscellany of commissioned songs, occasional songs, and early songs. The boxouts in this volume are a little different too: in volume one they dealt most with his judgments of other lyricists, while here they expand to cover general topics such as revivals, awards, and critics (about whom Sondheim writes thoughtfully, with the sensitive ambivalence one often sees in artists confronting those who are at once allies and enemies). The annotations seems less frequent and a little less intriguing than in volume one, though that might be just my impression.
Although the shows here are fewer and less familiar than those in the first volume (and one, Passion, is, as Sondheim points out, especially difficult to appreciate without the music), there are compensations. The evolution of Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show offers an especially powerful glimpse into the complexities of shaping a musical at both micro and macro levels; readers familiar with the music from one or another version of the show can observe how it appears and reappears in different contexts over time. The sections on other musicals, movies, and television give Sondheim fans who know only his basic discography the chance to discover songs they've missed and seek out recordings to get the full effect, and the final chapter is a treasure trove of curiosities, like birthday songs for Hal Prince and Arthur Laurents that expertly parody their collaborations with Sondheim. The selection of early lyrics is fascinating, though one wonders if the aspiring lyricists Sondheim hopes to encourage with this juvenilia will instead be overwhelmed by the basic competence of songs written in his teens and early twenties.
A book of collected lyrics is, of course, not an investment for the most casual fans. Many cast recordings include lyrics in their booklets, and despite their occasional inaccuracies, websites can clarify the odd imperfectly-heard line. But for the enthusiast, nothing can equal a continuous format that allows you to read (or sing) along with familiar tunes and appreciate the flow of lyrics that, freed from the music, reveal the elegant simplicity of their craft better than ever before. These beautifully-designed books, enriched by the lyricist's memories and his opinions on the history and the art of musical theater, are the ideal presentation of the legacy of one of the twentieth century's major lyricists.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The saga continues.....March 11 2014
- Published on Amazon.com
Despite the air of finality in the title of Stephen Sondheim's 2010 FINISHING THE HAT, in 2011 he gave us the equally impressive, art-book-sized LOOK, I MADE A HAT. These are his collected lyrics from 1981 to 2011, and more besides. At the beginning of this period Sondheim was still reeling from the spiteful critical reaction he received to his MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, the last show with lyrics in the preceding volume. But then Sondheim met producer/librettist James Lapine and in the Eighties and Nineties out came SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, INTO THE WOODS, ASSASSINS (with John Weidman), and PASSION, all of which have their lyrics here. Further work ensues, some more successful than others, including what Sondheim calls "A Saga In Four Acts," the play variously shaped into WISE GUYS, BOUNCE and ROAD SHOW, which never quite knew success. The story of the evolution of this show: lyrics in, lyrics out, characters intoduced and dropped, out-of-town trials, is indeed much the saga Sondheim suggests.
But that isn't all: Sondheim also has a few words to say about composers who are better known as pop musicians but who made contributions to Broadway as well, such as Johnny Mercer, Meredith Willson and Carolyn Leigh. To me, some of the most enjoyable parts in LOOK, I MADE A HAT are the "little" works, the early efforts, stillbirths, songs of occasion such as the one he wrote for Harold Prince's 80th birthday, and television works such as EVENING PRIMROSE, a pocket musical commissioned by and shown on ABC in 1966, which includes the delightfully delicate concluding song "Take Me to the World."
If you decide you want both FINISHING THE HAT and LOOK, I MADE A HAT together, significant savings can be found by ordering the boxed set of both: HAT BOX.
Evening Primrose Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Worthy SequelJan. 2 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Anyone who has read "Finishing the Hat", Volume 1 of Stephen Sondheim's Life and Career will love the second volume. It is informative; it brings one full circle in his career, shows, music, lyrics, thoughts, friends. All that one could wish in a sequel volume. If you are passionate about Sonheim's shows, you will love "Look, I Made a Hat"