Stephen Sondheim's "Look, I Made a Hat," Part Two of His Career in Lyrics, in Stores Nov. 22

News   Stephen Sondheim's "Look, I Made a Hat," Part Two of His Career in Lyrics, in Stores Nov. 22
"Look, I Made a Hat," the second volume of the collected and annotated lyrics of groundbreaking theatre songwriter Stephen Sondheim, gathered by the master himself, is officially in bookstores Nov. 22.

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Published Knopf, the 480-page illustrated book addresses shows written by the Tony Award winner between 1981 and 2011. Chronologically, it begins with lyrics from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park With George (1984) and ends with a 2010 specialty lyric, "God," that composer-lyricist Sondheim wrote for the Broadway musical Sondheim on Sondheim.

There are also plenty of lyrics from his songs from the movies (among them "Reds," "Stavisky," "Dick Tracy," the unproduced "Singing Out Loud," which spawned a rising cabaret standard "Water Under the Bridge"), plus his contributions to what he calls "Other Musicals" (some of them unproduced): Candide (1974), The Last Resorts (1956), The World of Jules Feiffer (1962), Hot Spot (1963), The Mad Show (1966), Ilya Darling (1968), A Pray by Blecht (1968) and Muscle (1994).

Also expect lyrics in chapters titled "Television" (a song for Kukla, Fran and Ollie, anyone?) and "Commissions, Occasions, Beginnings" (his specialty songs and juvenilia). There are also uncompromising essays (he calls them "sidebars") about critics and awards. The latter sidebar is titled "Awards and Their Uselessness."

As he did in the first book, he also comments on the failings and strengths of lyricists who are no longer with us (Carolyn Leigh, John La Touche, Johnny Mercer, Leo Robin, Hugh Martin, Meredith Willson). His thoughts are not as controversial as his earlier panning of Noel Coward and Gilbert & Sullivan.

Sondheim does not attempt (in either book) to talk about music — his or other composers'. "The biggest complaint or suggestion" he got from readers, friends and colleagues was, he told, was "can we have more about music?" He explains in his book, "The technique of composition is impossible to be precise and articulate about without using jargon."

A sequel to his 2010 first volume, which was called "Finishing the Hat," the new book's full title is "Look, I Made a Hat, Collected Lyrics (1981-2011), With Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany."

In what he calls his "Reintroduction," Sondheim mentions his regret about errors or omissions from the first book. Small ones were corrected in subsequent printings, and oversights are added to the current volume's Appendix, he writes.

Also of interest in the Reintroduction, which addresses a number of topics germaine to the craft of writing for the theatre, is his regret about how he characterized the 2004 revision of The Frogs, for which Nathan Lane made book contributions and starred.

"Rereading 'Finishing the Hat' for this Reintoduction, I was taken aback and chagrined by how dismissive I had been about Nathan Lane's 2004 revision of The Frogs," Sondheim writes. "…This book affords me a chance to apologize for my earlier comments and to expound a bit on what Nathan and I and our co-conspirator, Susan Stroman, who directed and choreographed the show, were trying to do."

Chapter Five is devoted to all three versions of the musical that became Road Show, which was also known as Wise Guys and Bounce. Sondheim calls the section "A Saga in Four Acts."

As before, Sondheim leads the book with his creative-writing manifesto: "Less Is More," "Content Dictates Form," "God Is in the Details." It's "all in the service of Clarity," he writes.

Starting Dec. 6, both volumes of lyrics are being sold as a packaged "Hat Box" for $90. There are 85,000 copies of "Finishing the Hat" in print. The first title made the New York Times Bestseller List, debuting at No. 11.

Read Steven Suskin's take on "Look, I Made a Hat" in's The Book Shelf column.


Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics for the musicals Gypsy, West Side Story and Do I Hear a Waltz?, and music and lyrics for Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, The Frogs, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Passion and Road Show, among other shows.

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