Syracuse University Magazine


Sondheim Unbound

Back in the age of the typewriter and before, when writers gave substance to vision in ink on paper, it was not unusual to come across early drafts of works by masters. Some, filled with scribbles and doodles, could serve as hieroglyphic roadmaps of the creative process. In these digital times, not so much. Eric D. Sherman ’91, partner in the Manhattan law firm of Pryor Cashman LLP and a collector of rare books, recently made a gift of one of these rare typescripts to the Syracuse University Library: a 169-page carbon copy of “Climb High,” the first full-length musical written by Stephen Sondheim, circa 1952.

Just a year out of college, Sondheim set the show at his alma mater, Williams College, but on advice of his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, moved on to other projects. Fame would arrive some years later, when Sondheim took Broadway by storm as Leonard Bernstein’s lyricist in the score of West Side Story. As if any peek into Sondheim’s early work is not treasure enough, more than half the pages are spattered with annotations and deletions. Sherman felt the library was the right place for “Climb High,” which, he notes, has neither been published nor produced on stage. “It offers an excellent opportunity for scholars to analyze the creative process in developing a working manuscript,” he says.

A political science major at SU who earned a J.D. degree at New York Law School, Sherman discovered the pleasures of collecting books and literary artifacts after an aunt left him a portion of her collection. “As I learned more about first editions and the art of book collecting generally, my interest grew pretty rapidly,” he says. “It’s an exciting adventure.” In 2010, Sherman shared the benefits of that adventure with the SU Library, donating approximately 1,570 books and other printed materials. Post-World War II American fiction is prominent in the collection, which contains first editions by Henry Miller, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer. “Eric’s gift also brings us a significant number of uncorrected proofs as well as some notable signatures,” says Sean Quimby, SU Library’s senior director of special collections.

“Climb High” is an extraordinary artifact, likely to draw the interest of musical theater scholars around the world. Asked how he managed to come upon it, Sherman credits Andreas Brown, the proprietor of the Gotham Book Mart, which obtained it through the purchase of a personal library. “Andreas became aware of my interests and showed it to me,” Sherman says.  “I was immediately intrigued. It’s a unique piece of American literature.”     —David Marc