At first I wasn't all that excited about the recently announced Sondheim boxed set, which bears the title The Story So Far. After all, there have been Sondheim tributes and retrospectives up the wazoo. Then I discovered that Masterworks Broadway will be releasing the four-disc set on September 29th, which is my birthday.
Thank you, universe. Way to make it all about me.
In truth, the fact that the new boxed set will purportedly include more than 30 previously unreleased tracks had certainly caught my interest. (See the full track listing here.) Most of these tracks appear to be demos performed by Sondheim himself, including:
"There's Something About a War," A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
"A Hero is Coming," Anyone Can Whistle
"Happily Ever After," Company
"Can That Boy Fox Trot," Follies
"Silly People" and "Not Quite Night," A Little Night Music
"Prayers" and "There is No Other Way," Pacific Overtures
The recording will also feature previously unreleased studio tracks, such as cut songs from Into the Woods, including "Have to Give Her Someone" and "Interesting Questions." It will also include some recordings that are available elsewhere, including the songs from the "Evening Primrose" soundtrack, which recently came out on a limited-edition CD.
Perhaps most intriguing to me are the cuts from Saturday Night, Sondheim's legendary first effort, which didn't make it to Broadway because of the death of its producer. The songs have certainly been recorded before, but the tracks on the new set feature the late Jack Cassidy singing "Class" and Arte Johnson performing "Love's a Bond." I'm not quite sure where these recordings came from. Perhaps it was some kind of demo recording.
In related news, Broadway Masterworks will also be partnering up with ArkivMusic to distribute on-demand digital copies of Sondheim's and Jerry Herman's shows. Collectors will now have access to shows that have been long out-of-print, including Herman's The Grand Tour and the Pearl Bailey Hello, Dolly!. And, most exciting, the London cast of Hello, Dolly!, starring Mary Martin, will be available on CD for the first time ever. These ArkivMusic CDs are nearly identical to the originals, although some of them will feature bonus tracks.
The on-demand format makes it far less expensive for the recording companies to distribute more "marginal" recordings. That's the great thing about the digital revolution: it's giving us access to wonderful recordings that we might not otherwise have been able to obtain.