Plenty of books celebrate the genius of Stephen Sondheim, the greatest composer and lyricist in Broadway history, but one that is sure to be catnip to his legions of fans is Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy by Stephen M. Silverman (the author died two months before this book's publication). Sondheim aficionados likely already know everything in this work, but it's so generous and handsomely illustrated--with production stills, set designs, costume sketches, analyses of Sondheim's musicals, insider gossip, and more--that fans will savor it. Aside from Sondheim's own exceptional books, Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat, this may be the best coffee-table volume devoted to his work.
Silverman (The Amusement Park) takes readers on a linear trip through Sondheim's life and career. He starts with his upbringing as the only child of "absentee working parents," including his social-climbing mother. He also writes about Sondheim's good fortune to have been mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, who told him, "Write what you believe, and you'll be ninety-nine percent ahead of the game"; his 1950s work writing scripts for television's Topper; and his partnerships writing lyrics for the scores by Leonard Bernstein for West Side Story in 1957 and Jule Styne for Gypsy in 1959. Silverman captures Sondheim's extraordinary run of musicals as composer and lyricist, including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music ("that wonderful combination: a prestige hit with commercial chops"), Pacific Overtures, and his masterpiece, Sweeney Todd. Sondheim fans: make room on the coffee table for this one. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer