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Finishing the Hat: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (Volume 1) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes [Hardcover]

Stephen Sondheim
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
Price: 30.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

14 Oct 2010

The winner of seven Tonys, seven Grammys, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize, Stephen Sondheim has become synonymous with the best in musical theatre. Now, in Finishing the Hat, he has not only collected his song lyrics for the first time, he's giving readers a rare, personal look into his extraordinary shows and life.

Along with the lyrics, both published and unpublished, for all of his productions from 1954 to 1981 - including West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd, which have starred some of the most famous and talented actors in the world from Johnny Depp and Catherine Zeta Jones, to Judi Dench and Alan Rickman, Finishing the Hat is a celebration of the act of creation. Sondheim discusses his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with legends Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, and countless others. His anecdotes - rich with history, personal insights, and intimate details - transport us back to a time when theatre was a major pillar of American culture. And throughout the book, Sondheim analyses his work and dissects his own songs as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insight into songwriting that will be studied for years to come.

Brilliant, poignant, scathing, and funny, Finishing the Hat is the newest production Sondheim can add to his list of classic works.


Frequently Bought Together

Finishing the Hat: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (Volume 1) 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 + Stephen Sondheim: The Birthday Concert [DVD]
Price For All Three: 72.99

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Virgin Books (14 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753522586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753522585
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 28.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Stephen is a writer you can readily bracket with Shakespeare and Chekhov. He should not to be thought of as a writer of musicals, but as a writer of theatre who understands all its possibilities, and who has extraordinary wit and insight into character. As we enter the 21st century, his status as one of the greats is absolutely secure." (Trevor Nunn)

"Is Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre? With Sondheim, it's always a challenge. It's difficult and exhilarating ... which is why Sondheim is for grownups and why his work is often so profound." (Michael Ball Guardian)

"The truth about Sondheim is that he is a prophet with very little honour in his own land ... The genius of Sondheim resides in the articulation of human emotion. Such reticence is more English in character than American" (Norman LeBrecht)

"He is, by universal acknowledgement, the man who revolutionised American musical theatre and the last survivor of a form that is all but extinct. As well as the joy of reading Sondheim's lyrics in full, Finishing the Hat provides a masterclass in the art of lyric-writing." (Mick Brown, Saturday Telegraph Magazine)

"This book is far more than a brilliant insight into the art of writing for the musical theatre, it is also a unique and revelatory critique of many giants of the genre including the author himself. Forthright, perceptive and continually fascinating...Stephen Sondheim is rightly a living legend as a composer/lyricist but he is also a superb natural teacher and this book will be a timeless legacy...The Gods of theatre salute you." (Cameron Mackintosh)

Book Description

'Stephen is a writer you can readily bracket with Shakespeare and Chekhov' Trevor Nunn

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable 12 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover
Anyone remotely interested in musical theatre should have this on their shelves. Like his lyrics, Sondheim's commentary on his work - and on that of his collaborators and predecessors - is illuminating, exacting and wonderfully precise. In addition to the final lyrics for every show from Saturday Night to Merrily We Roll Along (he's still at work on Volume 2 which will cover everything else) there are copies of manuscript pages with first ideas and second drafts, hitherto unseen rehearsal photographs, backstage anecdotes, delicious stories, mature reflections and disquisitions upon the art and craft of musical theatre throughout its heyday and beyond. Refreshingly, he's as pitiless on his own shortcomings as he is on other writer. It's worth it for the sidebar essays alone, with Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Fields, George and Ira Gershwin, Noel Coward, WS Gilbert, Oscar Hammerstein and more up for scrutiny. A treasure trove.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Insights but not the perfect production 15 Oct 2010
By KJ
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've had this book for a week now and, try as I might, can't put it down. As already stated, like him (I love him) or loathe him, this book is a must for anyone interested in Musical Theatre from the turn of the 20th Century. The illustrations are worth the price of the book and Mr S's picture editor is to be commended, the working pages of the songs showing how he strikes out whole verses are fascinating. The pen pictures of his 'rivals' are honed to the n'th degree - how much does he dislike laziness, a recurring theme - but these are almost all about those who are no longer with us because "speaking ill exclusively of the dead seems to me the gentlemanly thing to do", if you're a fan of Coward or Lorenz Hart you might be a bit miffed.

The book itself is sadly not perfect, I would happily have paid a bit more for better quality paper; as all of the illustrations are integrated with the text they are not best served and some appear a bit blurred by the level of ink saturation. My other gripe is that the appendix of casts only refers to Broadway 'first nights' and I feel much of interest in the way of cast changes, revivals and London casts could have been included at no great extra cost and effort.

Thanks 'god' - and, please, now get on with the final volume I can't wait!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Companionship 16 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr Sondheim is a tough critic of himself. The lyrics to Maria he finds wet: 'a wetness, I regret to say, which persists throughout all the romantic lyrics in the show'. Some of the lyrics to America, he suggests, 'melt in the mouth as gracelessly as peanut butter and are impossible to comprehend.' His biggest regret, though, was, initially, not being able to write the 'harsher and more realistic expletive he felt should finish the song Officer Krupke. However, he eventually came to realise that Bernstein's suggestion of 'Krup you!' was an improvement, in fact, 'the best line in the show!'(A sentiment presumably shared by Larry David, who used it for a great Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.)

You can see from these few excerpts from the chapter on West Side Story alone, what good companionship Sondheim's commentary provides for readers in this volume of lyrics. This is a wonderful book already and I have only begun to dip in here and there to the musicals I know better.

What range Sondheim shows from 'I Feel Pretty'(a song, unfortunately, that will never be quite the same again for me after Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson's version in Anger Management) to 'Pretty Women'! The light, deliberate simplicity of the lyrics of West Side Story and the teasing, tortuous duet of sex and death in Sweeney Todd. Nothing much darker in musical theatre than the songs and lyrics of the latter:

'City on Fire! / Rats in the grass / And the lunatics yelling in the streets! / It's the end of the world! Yes!' (City on Fire).

This book is an essential purchase for Sondheim fans. Whether Mr Sondheim is a genius, or can be compared to Shakespeare and Chekov, as Trevor Nunn writes on the back of this book, is debatable, but he is undoubtedly a composer and lyricist of the very finest order, and, in this book, a great friend to the reader. After all, as Sondheim knows well, we are all seeking company. He provides it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable 11 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is an indispensable aid to writing lyrics for musical theatre. But it is so much more than that. For the first time we can read Sondheim's prose so we find out much more about his personality, taste and academic rigour. You will find yourself regretful when he criticises other lyricists' work that you have valued such as Porter, Hart and Berlin. But you are in good company as Bernstein, Laurents and Robbins refused to let Sondheim amend his own lyrics for I Feel Pretty, preferring the imperfections he first came up with.

Unfortunately, this book is not complete and leaves out lyrics from many shows that were never produced including the famous four shows he wrote for his mentor Oscar Hammerstein. Surprisingly, even lyrics he wrote for shows that were produced like Candide have been left out.

What we do get, however, are some wonderful gems. Here, at last, are those cut songs from West Side Story that we have been hearing about for fifty years. These include the words for the instrumental prologue plus This Turf Is Ours, which was replaced with the Jet Song, and Like Everybody Else which is far longer than the version included on Lost in Boston I. And we finally get the lyrics to Mix!, another predecessor of the Jet Song, whose melody was reused by Bernstein for the second movement of his Chichester Psalms, so you can sing along to the Mix! lyrics.

As well as cut songs we also get cut verses so we get two extra choruses for Some People that were never used (but we don't get the cut verse which Sondheim has lost along with Styne's melody. What a loss). In Being Alive, all the verses beginning with 'Someone' are repeated but beginning with 'Somebody'. I once asked Sondheim why was one verse not repeated and left out.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Finishing the Hat The collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim
This is a new book which contains the collected lyrics of Stephen Sondheim as written in the first half of his career from 1954 -1981. Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2011 by G. Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Finishing the Hat
This first volume is absolutely brilliant. In addition to the lyrics, Sondheim's commentary is both acutely informative and funny. Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2011 by P. Hetherington
5.0 out of 5 stars Great man of the theatre.
This is essential reading for all lovers of musical theatre. The brilliant lyrics are worth savouring without the music and the comments, anecdotes etc. Read more
Published on 23 April 2011 by LANGERS
2.0 out of 5 stars dull
I'm a great fan of Sondheim's work. This book couldn't have been more dull if it tried. And I tried!!
Published on 30 Mar 2011 by john
3.0 out of 5 stars Sorry/Grateful
Having Mr. Sondheim's lyrics gathered together in two (two?) volumes is welcome. As to the physical aspects of this book (as a book), a good collaborator would have been useful. Read more
Published on 23 Feb 2011 by W. S. Ankenbrock
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy as the python who swallowed an elephant...
...and is now taking extended sedentary leave in order to digest it. There is much to take in, and all of it deserving extended contemplation. Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2011 by theatremonkey
5.0 out of 5 stars Purchase now! It's a must!
If you are interested in theatre, Sondheim or musical theatre, this is a must. A glorious treasure trove of information on living and working in the working theatre. Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2011 by Finishing The Hat
5.0 out of 5 stars Finishing the hat
Book absolutely fantastic.... Delivery company used terrible!! 6 attempts - 3 of which we were in for and they said we weren't and then didn't follow our requests to make sure we... Read more
Published on 13 Jan 2011 by Sarah D
2.0 out of 5 stars Ungracious and Unpleasant Book - Brilliant Lyrics
This is a rather disappointing book. In it, Sondheim shows his brilliance as a lyricists, but his ungracious and unpleasant remarks on other songwriters (notably Lorenz Hart, who... Read more
Published on 9 Jan 2011 by Alladin
3.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book if only I could read it!
The content of this book is going to be, I know, wonderful. But will I be able to read it? The type used is small, silver-grey in colour and extremely difficult to read. Read more
Published on 7 Jan 2011 by UK Reader
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