Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim
Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes

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Synopsis

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.
 

About Stephen Sondheim

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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.
 
Published October 26, 2010 by Knopf. 480 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Finishing the Hat

The New York Times

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(Both mix “earthbound” language with soaring “theatrical imaginations.”) He says the difference between Cole Porter and Noël Coward is the difference between “affection and affectation.” Alan Jay Lerner is dismissed with the choice line that his lyrics “are not as natty as they strut to be.” ...

Oct 21 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

The New York Times

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They worked for three uninterrupted hours and produced what would become the show­stopper “Rose’s Turn.” Sondheim describes the experience as “like every shimmering nighttime rehearsal scene I’d ever loved in the movies.” Stephen Sondheim shot to fame in 1957 as the lyricist who worked w...

Oct 27 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

The Guardian

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Finishing the Hat: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (Volume 1) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim Buy it from the Guardian bookshop Search the Guardian bookshop ...

Oct 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

The Guardian

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We have already learned that Sondheim "cordially but intensely" dislikes the lyrics of Noël Coward (a statement which earned him hisses at the Cheltenham literary festival a couple of weeks ago), and will soon discover that he has equally rebarbative things to say about the work of some of the de...

Oct 29 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Examiner

Finishing the Hat is a collection of lyrics from Stephen Sondheim's musicals from 1954-1981, along with songs that were not published.

Nov 06 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

New York Journal of Books

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From Sally’s broken “I dim the lights/And think about you,/Spend sleepless nights/To think about you/You said you loved me,/Or were you just being kind?/Or am I losing my mind?” from Follies to Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum: “No one is perfect,/You have your flaws,/B...

Oct 26 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Entertainment Weekly

In the preface to this engrossing annotated volume of his 1954–81 lyrics, Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim — the composer and lyricist who has lofted American musical theater forward for over half a century — swears by three artistic principles: Content dictates form;

Nov 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Los Angeles Times

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The first of a two-volume set of Sondheim's collected lyrics springs to life with sharp-eyed annotations, zingy anecdotes and frank appraisals of his most illustrious lyric-writing predecessors.

Nov 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Open Letters Monthly

This is as close as we’re likely to come to a Sondheim autobiography, alas, but it provides some sweet snapshots of the private Sondheim, including an account of his unabashed pride when an ailing Cole Porter gets a private concert of Gypsy-in-progress and beams at a tricky quadruple rhyme (“he g...

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London Review of Books

Today, Sondheim feels he sometimes had the Jets and Sharks speaking too archly or poetically – his aim is to write natural, conversational lyrics.

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The New Yorker

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Nov 29 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Lambda Literary

For Sondheim lovers—and like recovering alcoholics, we are legion—Finishing the Hat (Knopf) is far and beyond the most adroit and comprehensive look at the man and his music that has ever been written.

Nov 16 2010 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

Talkin' Broadway

Sondheim on Sondheim and Other Lyricists Adding to the value of the book are Sondheim's introductions to each show, usually focused on his memories of the show's development.

Jan 06 2011 | Read Full Review of Finishing the Hat: Collected ...

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