A new book on the lyrics on Sondheim has been published and is quite revealing in many respects.
The book is titled: Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges. According to an online New York Magazine article, there are some great quotes.
On some of the lyrics he wasn’t crazy about from his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein:
“When the sky is a bright canary yellow / I forget every cloud I’ve ever seen”: “When is the sky a bright canary yellow? As far as I know, only in the eye of a hurricane. If the sky were a bright canary yellow, I’d run to the nearest storm cellar. And even if such a sky exists, how often would Nellie see it? She may be a cockeyed optimist, but not very often.”
His thoughts on Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart:
“[Cole Porter] and Hart are the two acknowledged gay lyricists in the American pantheon, but Hart’s style conceals his homosexuality; Porter’s parades it.”
On attempting to be the first lyricist to use the F-word on broadway (in “Officer Krupke” from West Side Story):
“I realized, once I thought of the title, that the song would afford me the opportunity of being the first lyricist to use a serious four-letter obscenity in a Broadway musical … [but] such language had never been heard in a musical, and here was my chance to make my mark by having a loud choral ‘Fuck you!’ as the punchline of a song …. All was well until we played it for the producers … I was in despair until Lenny came up with ‘Krup You!’, which may be the best lyric line in the show … ”
Attempting to write into Sweeney Todd the first musical theater orgasm:
“I had hoped here to be the first [songwriter] to have a character reach an orgasm in the middle of a song. Once again I was disappointed — the song was cut during previews.”
Stephen!! You’re cheeky!!
Also, songwriting legend Paul Simon reviews the book in the NYtimes.