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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 – 14 Oct 2010
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"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)
'Stephen is a writer you can readily bracket with Shakespeare and Chekhov' Trevor NunnSee all Product description
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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. He replied he thought it was 'unnecessary' but why that particular verse and not the other three verses? Unfortunately he doesn't explain why in this book.
I could go on and on about the fascinating details in this book. Sondheim is one of the best teachers you can get and that is what keeps you gripped in reading this book. You do get an idea of his striving for perfection here but what you don't get is his fantastic generosity. He always replies to your letters unlike many less eminent people. When I suggested Saturday Night was good enough to be published (and later it was), he disagreed but gave me a copy of his manuscripts including his many lyrical attempts and rejects, some of which are reproduced in this book. For me the best thing about this book is we do at last hear his voice for the first time instead of the many characters he has made sing these past 53 years.
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!