For the theater lover on your holiday gift list, a double dose of Sondheim
There's no question what book every lover of theater -- musical theater, more specifically -- will want this year. That's Stephen Sondheim's own "Finishing the Hat" (Knopf), an irresistible collection of (to quote the book's subtitle) "Collected Lyrics (1954-1981), with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes."
Isn't it rich?
The book would be invaluable if it only contained the lyrics, since Sondheim's are the most consistently brilliant in imagery, emotion and rhyme that have ever graced a Broadway show. But there's much more. Extensive chunks of dialogue are included, providing context for the song texts.
And, for the icing on this multi-layered cake, there's Sondheim's running commentary -- explanations of how he arrived at words and phrases; analyses of how each show came together, how and why the songs worked or didn't work in their respective scenes; tons of backstage stories; even descriptions of the pencils Sondheim uses when he's writing.
You come away understanding aspects of crafting a line that you may never have considered. You also come away, of course, with an understanding of what makes Sondheim Sondheim.
The most fun in the book -- wicked fun, really -- may well be had from the author's commentaries on fellow lyricists. You just have to love the brutal honesty, even if Sondheim deflates one of your favorites in the process.
It was LOL time for me when I read his take on Oscar Hammerstein and