By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated November 10, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

In the preface to this engrossing annotated volume of his 1954?81 lyrics, Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim — the composer and lyricist who has lofted American musical theater forward for over half a century — swears by three artistic principles: Content dictates form; less is more; and God is in the details. As a result, every detail signifies, and no comment is superfluous in the rich survey, which ranges from West Side Story and Gypsy to Company, Follies, and Sondheim?s Grand Guignol masterwork, Sweeney Todd. Hat is both a dishily erudite memoir and an essential textbook for anyone in pursuit of theater literacy. A

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