stage dive

The Ultimate Sondheim Spoiler Alert: Seven Secrets From Look, I Made a Hat

Sondheim at a book-signing for Volume One, Finishing the Hat.

Does October 25 sound like “Soon” or “Later” to you, Sondheim fans? Whether it’s sooner or later, it’s certainly not now — but it is the earliest you’ll get a peek at the second volume of Stephen Sondheim’s compiled lyrics and reminisces, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981–2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes. The generously titled Sondquel has just been made available for preorder on Amazon and will pick up where Volume One (a.k.a. Finishing the Hat) left off: in the early eighties, circa Sunday in the Park with George.

We have a choice here, Divers: We can wait patiently to hear Paul Simon’s deep thoughts on the latter half of Sondheim’s quasi-autobiographical-ish lyrical concordance, or … we can talk spoilers. Because I’m not at all curious about how “Putting It Together” informed the chorus of “You Can Call Me Al,” I vote spoilers. First, a spoiler spoiler alert: All of these are utterly false. (As far as I know.) With that out of the way: The top seven (hoped-for) spoilers from Look, I Made a Hat!

• In 1983, President Reagan secretly commissioned Sondheim to write a shimmering, elliptical ballad in 5/8 time about space-based anti-ballistic missile technology. The song was used to jam Soviet defense transmissions, and Sondheim was paid $9 billion. It’s now widely held in policy circles that “Too Many Warheads (in Yuri’s Eyes)” turned the tide at Reykjavik.

• Sondheim both owns and lives in Central Park. Cleopatra’s Needle conceals his front door; to open it, one must whistle the first eight bars of “Hello, Little Girl” flawlessly.

• A young Paul Haggis once approached Sondheim in the Times Square subway station brandishing a copy of Dianetics, but Sondheim confused him with a series of dissonances and complex rhythms to escape un-audited.

• This shocker from Sondheim, regarding Madonna: “Not a natural blonde. Take it from me.”

• Apparently, 1994’s Passion was inspired not by Ettore Scola’s film Passione d’Amore or its source novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, but by a particularly upsetting episode of Duck Tales.

• For some years now, Sondheim has been stealing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mailbox and returning it full of licorice. Neither man speaks of this, but it is assumed that Webber will someday retaliate.

• Sondheim did succeed in making an actual hat, in the early nineties, after years of night classes in haberdashery. But when he presented the chapeau as a gift to longtime musical director Paul Gemignani, he discovered that Gemignani could no longer wear a hat, having sold his ears to an illegal organ-trafficking ring to pay for a watch chain for Sondheim. Sondheim noted that he’d never worn a pocket watch and was unlikely to start now, and the evening ended in awkward silence.

The Ultimate Sondheim Spoiler Alert: Seven Secrets From Look, I Made a Hat