Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany Hardcover – Nov 22 2011
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“Sondheim is a national treasure, a giant in the world of musical theater who changed the structure and sound of the form in 20th-century masterpieces. Speaking of heaven, though, here's Look, I Made a Hat, the second part of Sondheim's two-volume collection of lyrics, this one spanning 1981-2011, with additional bits and pieces. Talmudically thorough and devilishly diverting with what the author refers to as ‘attendant comments, amplifications, dogmas, harangues, digressions, anecdotes, and miscellany,’ the book is divine. It's also even more magnanimously authoritative than the first book. The handsomely designed book, like the first volume, contains illuminating reproductions of pages from the author's beloved legal pads on which he works out rhyme schemes, as well as annotated scripts and pages of musical notations. And the second volume is brimming — a word Sondheim would probably dismiss as ‘infelicitous’ — with precise, vigorous, instructive, sharp-tongued, and often very funny comments. Look, I Made a Hat, together with Finishing the Hat, makes an enormously satisfying journal by one of the great theatrical minds of our time, a guide and touchstone for who knows how many future great theatrical minds. A” —Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
“While the book technically covers Mr. Sondheim’s output from 1981 to the present, aficionados will delight in all the bits and bobs from early in his career that Mr. Sondheim didn’t make room for in the first volume . . . The extensive miscellany also includes a drawerful of lyrics Mr. Sondheim wrote as birthday gifts for friends like Harold Prince, Mary Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein. One of the choicest pleasures of the first volume was in Mr. Sondheim’s sharp-minded analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of musical theater lyricists from the past. He’s covered most of that territory already, so the new book features essays on ‘Awards and Their Uselessness’ and ‘Critics and Their Uses’ — savory reading.” —Charles Isherwood, New York Times
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It reminded me of how, as a college student, I worked at the Harvard Coop and I overheard someone say to her friend, in that Boston accent, "I don't want Aht; I want postuhs." Well "Cats" is a big poster and it's taken until the 21st century but at last the theatre community (such that it is) and the public are finally recognizing the genuis that is Sondheim's words and music.
J.S. Bach wasn't known as a composer until fifty years after his death. Byt that time an estimated 50% of his music was lost.
Sondheim, from age 79 to 82 has written two massive books that match. The first is called "Finishing The Hat" and the second is called "Look, I Made a Hat" The titles are references to one of his finest songs from the score "Sunday In The Park With George" in which an artists is explaining how he is driven to work. Will his lover be waiting in the bed when the grass, the hat and the parasol have finally found their way? How the tug between art and life is constant and the hat is not at all a metaphor within the show; George is painting the millions of flecks of color to create the hat on the woman's head. On the title of these books, the metaphor is for all art in it's entirety- visiual arts, performiong arts, music, dance, theatre, literature, anything that drives us. The final lyric for this song is "Look I made a hat where there never was a hat." The lyric from this song is magical and the music soars. "Mapping out A Sky / what you feel like planning a sky / what you feel when voices that come through the windowe go / until they distance and die / until there's nothing but sky." To create art gives us a moment of feeling the way God must feel.
These two books take a hard look at every lyric Stephen Sondheim has ever written including the multitude of songs cut from productions (a total of 32 songs were cut from the show "Follies" and he has them all here) He tells us about writing, he defines form, how to rhyme, when to rhyme. Content Dictates Form. Less Is More. God is In The Details.
These three principles are consistent through all 36 pounds of reading. Anyone who is interested in lyric writing must read this, as Sondheim is, without question, the finest lyricist to have ever lived. He shows us how it is craft, not art and he shows us with copies of his papers and sketches and his love for words and puzzles. He discusses the lyrics of others, though much more liberally in the first volume - I would guess some Noel Coward fans got the feathers ruffled - and worse, to haver Sondheim proclaimn Dorothy Fields a master didn't please many of the old boys network. He was far more careful in his second books not to step on toes and came right out and said so. Mr. Sonmdheim is equally hard on his own writing and has no trouble beating himself up even when it seems unwarranted. (His very words to me, "Let's just disagree and leave it at that.")
The bottom line is every song writer would do well to study these books, to listen to his music and see how the lyrics fit on the music. We've all heard those lyrics that sound like a square peg in a circle, usually with four or five people as songwriting credits.
Stephen Sondheim has proven himself and the fact that he is regarded as a master and, from the age of 23 with "West Side Story" has made money by creating new styles. He invented "the Concept" musical ("Company") He created the only musical in history that plays like a movie with no applause breaks anywhere and no intermission, ("Passion")leaving the audience panting and trembling when the show at last ends on the i chord. Then we were aloud to appalud. It was like watching "Silence Of The Lambs."
Anyone at all who works in theatre needs to read these books. All copmposers; all actors; all critics and then just any person who has the interest of hearing the "how to's" and the back stage stories of the creation of history. Would it not have been wonderful to have Mozart words regarding the composition of his "Requiem"- all the mysteries involved there. Or, more exact, the words of J.S. Bach since his work is more similar to Sondheim. Sondheim has left all theatre composers behind and though Adam Guettel wait in the wings but in the past decade it's been a rare moment when one of Soindhe3im's musicals has not been back on Broadway and the elousive "Merrily We Roll Along' just played a limited engagement after winning the Olivier Prize for Besty Musical of the year in London about eleven yearfs ago.
In regard to theatre in gedneral and musical thewatre in particular (which has been completely redefined) these two books are the most important volumes to have ever been published.
"I chose and my world was shaken; so what? / The choice may have been mistaken; the choosing was not / You have to move on. / Anything you do / let it come from you / then it will be true / Give us more to see."
-"Move On" from "Sunday In The Park With George"
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.
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.
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.
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