Into the Worlds of Sondheim
Padlock IconThis article is only a portion of the full article. If you are already a premium subscriber please login. If you are not a premium subscriber, please subscribe for access to all of our content.

Published in: March-April 2024 issue.

His Life, His Shows, His Legacy
by Stephen M. Silverman
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
292 pages, $35.

THE LYRICS from a song in Stephen Sondheim’s dazzling Broadway show Sunday in the Park with George (1983) include these lines: “Bit by bit,/ Putting it together./ Piece by Piece—/ Only way to make a work of art./ Every moment makes a contribution,/ Every little detail plays a part./ Having just the vision’s no solution,/ Everything depends on execution:/ Putting it together/ That’s what counts.” Stephen M. Silverman’s lush, posthumous coffee table compendium of Sondheim’s career, Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy, does exactly that. It puts it all together to make an exhilarating work of art in its own right.

            In addition to spilling the tea on Sondheim’s business and personal involvements, the book contains over 200 lavish black-and-white and color photos and enticing sidebars. Silverman is wise to avoid critical analysis. Instead, he provides an encyclopedic textual and visual biography. His chronological documentation of Sondheim’s career becomes an immersive experience, spotlighting minor missteps and major achievements, and making for a glorious singalong.

            In his own comprehensive two-volume collection of the songs for his shows (Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat), Sondheim outlines his three guiding principles for a lyricist: “Content Dictates Form; Less Is More; and God Is in the Details.” He adds the corollary that “all [is]in the service of Clarity.” This precept is exemplified and underscored by Silverman.

To continue reading this article, please LOGIN or SUBSCRIBE

Robert Allen Papinchak, a former university English professor, is an award-winning freelance book critic in the Los Angeles area.


Read More from Robert Allen Papinchak