In terms of structure this second volume of Stephen Sondheim's collected lyrics is much like his first: after a one-paragraph summary of the show and an introductory note on its development from a concept to a full production, we get the lyrics, including cut songs and alternate versions, surrounded by just enough plot summary that the songs make sense and interspersed with annotations on the logic behind the songs, the stories behind them, the successes and failures (in Sondheim's eyes) of a line, a verse, a whole lyric. Short essays on general musical-theater themes appear in boxouts at intervals throughout. A few photos, all black-and-white, are nice enough but pale in comparison to the other images: reduced pages that show the original handwritten workings for various songs, with alternate readings crowding each other out. They aren't always fully legible, but the general insight into the evolution of a song is invaluable. On a larger level, the annotations and essays reveal aspects of the construction of a musical that even devotees of the form might not have considered. Sondheim's non-fiction voice, incisive, witty, and self-deprecating, is always entertaining.
What sets Look, I Made a Hat apart from volume one, Finishing the Hat, is that the included content is a little different. Where the earlier book featured thirteen full shows, including early classics like Gypsy and the extraordinary successes of the 1970s, this one covers only five. The reason it's nonetheless the same approximate length as the first book is that (1) one show (known variously as Wise Guys, Bounce, and Road Show) is presented in four versions and (2) there's a large selection of additional lyrics: pieces from unproduced shows, contributions to shows by others, songs from movies, songs for television, and a miscellany of commissioned songs, occasional songs, and early songs. The boxouts in this volume are a little different too: in volume one they dealt most with his judgments of other lyricists, while here they expand to cover general topics such as revivals, awards, and critics (about whom Sondheim writes thoughtfully, with the sensitive ambivalence one often sees in artists confronting those who are at once allies and enemies). The annotations seems less frequent and a little less intriguing than in volume one, though that might be just my impression.
Although the shows here are fewer and less familiar than those in the first volume (and one, Passion, is, as Sondheim points out, especially difficult to appreciate without the music), there are compensations. The evolution of Wise Guys/Bounce/Road Show offers an especially powerful glimpse into the complexities of shaping a musical at both micro and macro levels; readers familiar with the music from one or another version of the show can observe how it appears and reappears in different contexts over time. The sections on other musicals, movies, and television give Sondheim fans who know only his basic discography the chance to discover songs they've missed and seek out recordings to get the full effect, and the final chapter is a treasure trove of curiosities, like birthday songs for Hal Prince and Arthur Laurents that expertly parody their collaborations with Sondheim. The selection of early lyrics is fascinating, though one wonders if the aspiring lyricists Sondheim hopes to encourage with this juvenilia will instead be overwhelmed by the basic competence of songs written in his teens and early twenties.
A book of collected lyrics is, of course, not an investment for the most casual fans. Many cast recordings include lyrics in their booklets, and despite their occasional inaccuracies, websites can clarify the odd imperfectly-heard line. But for the enthusiast, nothing can equal a continuous format that allows you to read (or sing) along with familiar tunes and appreciate the flow of lyrics that, freed from the music, reveal the elegant simplicity of their craft better than ever before. These beautifully-designed books, enriched by the lyricist's memories and his opinions on the history and the art of musical theater, are the ideal presentation of the legacy of one of the twentieth century's major lyricists.