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October 26, 2010

Stephen Sondheim Releases First-Ever Collection of Lyrics

Stephen Sondheim's Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes was released today in the United States on Knopf.

Sondheim has won seven Tonys, an Oscar, seven Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors. His career has spanned more than half a century, his lyrics have become synonymous with musical theatre and popular culture, and in Finishing the Hat—titled after perhaps his most autobiographical song, from Sunday in the Park with George—Sondheim has not only collected his lyrics for the first time, he is giving readers a rare personal look into his life as well as his remarkable productions.

Along with the lyrics for all of his musicals from 1954 to 1981—including West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd—Sondheim treats us to never-before-published songs from each show, songs that were cut or discarded before seeing the light of day. He discusses his relationship with his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborations with extraordinary talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Angela Lansbury, Harold Prince and a panoply of others. The anecdotes—filled with history, pointed observations and intimate details—transport us back to a time when theater was a major pillar of American culture. Best of all, Sondheim appraises his work and dissects his lyrics, as well as those of others, offering unparalleled insights into songwriting that will be studied by fans and aspiring songwriters for years to come.

Accompanying Sondheim’s sparkling writing are behind-the-scenes photographs from each production, along with handwritten music and lyrics from the songwriter’s personal collection.

Penetrating and surprising, poignant, funny and sometimes provocative, Finishing the Hat is not only an informative look at the art and craft of lyric writing, it is a history of the theater that belongs on the same literary shelf as Moss Hart’s Act One and Arthur Miller’s Timebends. It is also a book that will leave you humming the final bars of Merrily We Roll Along, while eagerly anticipating the next volume, which begins with the opening lines of Sunday in the Park with George.