The first and only full-scale and definitive biography of the most important composer-lyricist in musical theater today.
Drawing on personal conversations with Sondheim himself, as well as interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and lovers, Secrest offers new insight into the enigmatic and very private Stephen Sondheim. Here, we learn about his childhood on New York’s Upper West Side, his parents’ devastating divorce, and his ascent to the peaks of the Broadway musical. Secrest vividly recreates the energy, passion, and despair that went into each beloved show, from Sondheim’s fabled collaboration with Hal Prince on Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, to his disagreements with co-lyricist Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story. A fascinating and remarkable portrait of the man, the music, and the genius of Stephen Sondheim: star of his own fascinating and unfinished life.
About Stephen Sondheim
In the first full-scale life of the most important composer-lyricist at work in musical theatre today, Meryle Secrest, the biographer of Frank Lloyd Wright and Leonard Bernstein, draws on her extended conversations with Stephen Sondheim as well as on her interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and lovers to bring us not only the artist–as a master of modernist compositional style–but also the private man. Beginning with his early childhood on New York’s prosperous Upper West Side, Secrest describes how Sondheim was taught to play the piano by his father, a successful dress manufacturer and amateur musician. She writes about Sondheim’s early ambition to become a concert pianist, about the effect on him of his parents’ divorce when he was ten, about his years in military and private schools. She writes about his feelings of loneliness and abandonment, about the refuge he found in the home of Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, and his determination to become just like Oscar. Secrest describes the years when Sondheim was struggling to gain a foothold in the theatre, his attempts at scriptwriting (in his early twenties in Rome on the set of Beat the Devil with Bogart and Huston, and later in Hollywood as a co-writer with George Oppenheimer for the TV series Topper), living the Hollywood life. Here is Sondheim’s ascent to the peaks of the Broadway musical, from his chance meeting with play- wright Arthur Laurents, which led to his first success– as co-lyricist with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story–to his collaboration with Laurents on Gypsy, to his first full Broadway score, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And Secrest writes about his first big success as composer, lyricist, writer in the 1960s with Company, an innovative and sophisticated musical that examined marriage à la mode. It was the start of an almost-twenty-year collaboration with producer and director Hal Prince that resulted in such shows as Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music. We see Sondheim at work with composers, producers, directors, co-writers, actors, the greats of his time and ours, among them Leonard Bernstein, Ethel Merman, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Robbins, Zero Mostel, Bernadette Peters, and Lee Remick (with whom it was said he was in love, and she with him), as Secrest vividly re-creates the energy, the passion, the despair, the excitement, the genius, that went into the making of show after Sondheim show. A biography that is sure to become the standard work on Sondheim’s life and art.
“A great read, magnificently reported and full of insights.” —USA Today
“An indispensable book.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Intriguing. . . . An evenhanded portrait of a sensitive but essentially solitary man.” —The New York Times “Memorable. . . . Secrest’s biography of Sondheim brilliantly captures the uncertainties of a life in the theater.” —People
“Even walking Sondheim encyclopedias will find news here. Secrest spent hours interviewing Sondheim, and he talked with unprecedented candor about his homosexuality, his unhappy childhood and his ‘snappish intolerance’ of others.” —Newsweek
“Admirable. . . . [Secrest] is clearly a tireless researcher and marathon interviewer. . . . Those with and those without a special interest in the musical theater are kept happy.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Impressively researched, eminently readable. . . . [Secrest] does a remarkable job of integrating the life and the work. The result is a portrait of a brilliant, deeply sensitive man.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“Definitive. . . . Secrest has connected Sondheim the human being with Sondheim the genius.” —Houston Chronicle
“Fascinating. . . . Secrest’s book on Sondheim is so fascinating that anyone can enjoy it.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A must-read for anyone interested in the musical theater. . . . In Stephen Sondheim: A Life, Meryle Secrest sheds some light on the complex sensibility that grew out of a golden yet emotionally ragged childhood.” —New York
“What distinguishes Secrest’s work is her access to the very private, vulnerable and sometimes quite prickly composer himself, and through that, the first detailed study of his complex personal life.” —Chicago Tribune
“Meticulously researched. . . . A bonanza.” —The Denver Post
“Superb. . . . Garners our trust, seducing us into a delicious and uncommonly erudite show-biz read.” —Newsday
“A portrait of a complicated, contradictory and compelling artist. . . . Secrest does much to illuminate some of the darker corners of Sondheim’s life, as well as to describe his long years in the spotlight.” —The Miami Herald