Stephen Sondheim is perhaps one of the most well-known figures in the history of musical theater. This talented and often prolific composer/lyricist is the genius behind such Broadway stage classics as Sunday in The Park With George, Assassins, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and of course, West Side Story. Many of Sondheim’s productions have been adapted into films. Sondheim’s work turned actors like Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and Ethel Merman into household names.
Now, Sondheim’s collected lyrics have been compiled into a two-volume book, called Look, I Made A Hat. The book focuses on Sondheim’s work after 1981 and will hit
bookstores on November 22. And according to The Chicago Tribune, Stephen Sondheim has won the prestigious Chicago Tribune Literary Prize this year.
But if you’re a Broadway buff, expecting this book to be a memoir, you may be disappointed. Understandably, the composer/lyricist wants to keep his personal life separate from his career. In the Chris Jones’s article, Sondheim said that readers of the first volume of the book, Finishing The Hat, were unhappy “that I didn’t speak enough about my personal life, ‘personal’ being the euphemism for ‘intimate,’ which is the euphemism for ‘sexual.'”
Although he is openly gay, Sondheim has never used his sexuality as a focal point for his work. And when he was asked why he had never written a memoir, the musical theater icon said, “I don’t find my life that interesting… The shows, maybe. But not me.”
This is perhaps the best perspective in which to view Sondheim’s achievement and iconic status. After all, it’s the shows and not his personal life that have made an impact on audiences and scholars alike for the last fifty years. And Stephen Sondheim’s amazing body of work will be remembered for many more years to come.