As album producer Bruce Kimmel points out in his liner notes to Unsung Sondheim, Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim has a rule against utilizing what are called "trunk" songs, i.e., the common practice of recycling material written for one project into another. He is not averse, however, to collections like this, in which songs and instrumental music that either were never used or never recorded are assembled into a rarities anthology. Such a set, ranging over decades and a myriad of different works, is necessarily disparate. But, as usual, Sondheim's high standard makes it worthwhile, especially to his fans. Those fans probably will know that his first intended Broadway musical was a show called Saturday Night that had a completed score when it was scuttled in 1955 after its theatrical producer died suddenly. Four songs from that score are performed here, among them the amusing "In the Movies," which contrasts life as it is depicted on the screen and life as it was lived in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Sondheim is known to be a movie fan even though he has rarely written for the screen, and there are examples of those rarities here, including "What Can You Lose?," which was used in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, "Goodbye for Now," the love theme from Beatty's Reds, and "Water Under the Bridge," written for a movie musical called Singing Out Loud that never went into production. Of particular interest are a couple of extended instrumental pieces, incidental music used in two plays written by Sondheim collaborator Arthur Laurents, Invitation to a March and The Enclave. The music doesn't sound like typical scoring (if there is such a thing for a stage play), but rather comes off as modern classical music. Perhaps most familiar to Sondheim fans will be songs that were written for but cut from shows like Anyone Can Whistle ("There's Always a Woman"), Company ("Multitudes of Amys"), and Follies ("That Old Piano Roll"). The songs are effectively performed by a bevy of Broadway singers including Kaye Ballard, Judy Kaye, and Rebecca Luker.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann