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Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes Hardcover – October 26, 2010


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Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) 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 + Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679439072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679439073
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 1.1 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Finishing the Hat is a show stopper! If you love Stephen Sondheim, hate him, or never even heard of him, you'll still have a great ride—so take it! This book is filled with humor, controversy, stories about talented and glamorous people and, above all, life. And his lyrics! Everything you've ever wanted to know—about anything—is in those lyrics." —Phyllis Newman
 
 “There is so much to be learned and appreciated from Finishing the Hat. It's filled with fascinating, entertaining, unique and compelling lessons from a man who encompasses the essence of what is truly great about American Musical Theatre.” —Michael Feinstein
 
“Just as Stephen Sondheim is, without dispute, THE master lyricist for the theater of our generation (not to mention his superb music!), he now has written THE book on the art and craft of lyric writing. It is a book that will enrich and entertain anyone with an interest in music and theater, either as a life’s work or a life’s pleasure. It is like no other writing on the subject. It is Sondheim.” —Alan & Marilyn Bergman
 
“Seeing my first Sondheim musical, Follies, I was like the farm girl brought to the Homes of Tomorrow exhibit; breathless, nose pressed to the glass. This book takes the glass away. It’s a thrill to experience these shows again with Steve as your guide. What a gift to the theatre this book is! For actors, it's a must. For lyricists, it a primer.” —Joanna Gleason
 
“The book is a masterpiece. There never has been and never will be one like it. It is about the grain of sand that produces the pearl and is indeed as honest and simple as that pearl. If you pay attention to this book you could learn how to write a song, though not a great song. That is forever mysterious as genius will always be. The main lesson is that this particular genius is dead practical. All the hocus pocus attached to art has no meaning in the mind of Sondheim. You must read it to see what does matter to him and you will marvel and read it again. And then again.” —Mike Nichols
 
“Stephen Sondheim’s book can be read for pleasure, information, wisdom, humor or inspiration; all of the pleasures I received. Or because it tells a few secrets about how genius works.” —Stanley Donen

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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Customer Reviews

Mr. Sondheim's contributions are the apotheosis of musical theater.
Susan Tunis
There is so much to enjoy about this book that it will take several readings to absorb it all.
Grady Harp
As a budding musical theatre composer/lyricist this book is a bible.
Manda

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you are lucky, you will discover artists whose work speaks to you in a very profound way. For me, it's the paintings of Henri Matisse, the novels of John Irving, the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. I'm an unabashed fan.

Mr. Sondheim's new coffee table book, Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes, is a gift to us all. Before you even start reading the text, flip through it and you'll see that this is a gorgeous book. It is chock full of photographs--more than 200--many of them full page blowups. There are pictures and artwork from the productions, candid photos from Mr. Sondheim's personal collection, and images of his hand-written notes, lyrics, and sheet music. This book is richly and beautifully illustrated. The only small disappointment is that all images are black and white, but it is truly a minor complaint.

Once you've feasted your eyes, dive into the text. Almost immediately, you'll see that Mr. Sondheim has written his book with the care and precision with which he writes his songs. There's a slight formality to the tone (with the laying down of copious rules along the way), but at the same time, it's a very candid look at his work, his collaborators, his predecessors, and his life. For musicians or composers, there is much substantive information on his process. And for theater buffs like me, this book is a treasure! Mr. Sondheim's contributions are the apotheosis of musical theater. The shows recounted are theatrical history. Sadly, I'm too young to have seen the original productions of any of these 13 shows, but now I've heard about the drama behind the scenes of Merrily We Roll Along straight from the horse's mouth.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By W. White on November 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have sat, transfixed, for the previous 2 1/2 days reading this book from cover to cover. Every line is a gem, a brilliant insight to be savored and reflected upon. If you have ever wanted direct access to the mind of one of art's greatest creators, this is it.
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61 of 75 people found the following review helpful By neophyte on November 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dear Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Knopf: Please use a different art director for volume two. Ms. Iris Weinstein, art director for "Finishing the Hat," has not followed any of Mr. Sondheim's three principles. Number one: "Content dictates form - if so, the content thereby should be easily readable as "Finishing the Hat" is a book of lyrics. Number two: "God is in the details," -if so, he/she will be very unhappy with the details of the silvery grey type. Ms. Weinstein should also not get credit for Mr. Sondheim's third principle "Less is More," becauser in this case, less is definitely not more. If anyone has any ideas (other than a magnifying glass) to make the type more readable, please send it ASAP.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Byrnejo on December 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I looked forward to receiving this book and was therefore particularly disappointed when it arrived and I found the faint type face and the font size inadequate . I have had great difficulty in reading it even with my reading glasses, and so I have given up. How an experienced firm like Knopf can make this basic mistake, I don't know. I wrote to them about it, and I have not heard from them. This either means they have appalling public relations, or they recognised the truth of what I had to say to them and did not want to acknowledge it. They should supply a magnifying glass with each copy! How could they do this to a genius like Stephen Sondheim!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Spritz on December 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It must drive him crazy that there are a few typo's or typographical meanderings along the way. The sort of top-of-the-Statue-of-Liberty thing that he focuses on. But that's just a quibble.

This is a dandy book for those of us who have, any time since the '60s or so, become infected with the Sondheim illness. Plenty to think about, carp about, admire. New photos to ponder. New versions of songs to ruminate over. A teeny-weeny part of me feels sorry for the guy, in that he seems to have so spend some amount of energy responding to preconceptions and conceptions about him. Must be exhausting.

One thought, upon finishing it: how rare and wonderful that a major practitioner of a given art (or craft, as he would insist) is also an astute and acute critic and surveyor of said art/craft. You think Harnick or Ebb or Porter or Hart or Loesser or any of them could/can write so incisively about their peers, their predecessors, how they all fit together, how they rank, how they shine (or don't), where the faults lie, where the untapped gems lurk? Nope. So we are lucky to have had Sondheim writing shows and just as lucky that he can talk to us about how it all happens, both for him and for others.

I didn't find the type hard to read, as others did, and I don't know about the photos shmearing off -- I read it while wearing kid gloves, naturally.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Sondheim Will probably forever be regarded as the finest lyricist the musical stage has known - with apologies to librettist W. S. Gilbert or Gilbert and Sullivan fame. He has always taken on stories that encourage - no, force - the audience to relate to his ideas, whether that be in the early stages of his career with the magnum opus West Side Story or with the subsequent Gypsy!, Pacific Overtures, Follies, Sundays in the Park with George, Company, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, etc. But while most everyone knows the lyrics to his large number of hits, few of us know the secrets or gossip or the lyricists real feelings about each of his ventures - until now.

This book is a very well written compendium of the lyrics (in every phase of their being), notes, ideas, misjudgments, and personal responses to the shows and the people involved with them. Sondheim is brilliant, not only at what he has done for a living, but also as a thinker and philosopher and pundit. Reading this book, as opposed to scanning this book, opens windows of insight into the career and the personality of one of America's treasures. There is so much to enjoy about this book that it will take several readings to absorb it all. It is a welcome addition to the libraries of all those who care about the stage musicals that are one of the few 'unique offerings' of this country to the world of music. Grady Harp, December 10
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