Musicals have been running on Broadway in New York City for over 160 years, so it’s only natural that the art form has been adapted in many ways throughout its history. But one such form — the industrial musical — was so under-the-radar that it took one intrepid comedy writer years to fully understand the hidden world.
Steve Young worked as a writer for David Letterman at both his Late Night show on NBC and Late Show program on CBS. In his research for possible segments, Young came across albums featuring cast recordings of industrial musicals, or musicals created for specific companies like G.E., McDonald’s, and Ford to put on during their annual sales meetings.
These weren’t slapdash shows featuring Joe from sales and Mary from accounting; they were full-fledged productions composed by seasoned musicians and starring professional actors. Kander & Ebb, Bob Fosse, Susan Stroman, Chita Rivera, Florence Henderson, and Martin Short are among the well-known names who lent their talents to industrial musicals over the years.
Bathtubs Over Broadway follows Young years after his initial discovery, when he is hip deep into his love/obsession over the recordings and the people who participated in them. Using his showbiz connections, he’s able to meet not only with some now-famous people, but also with composers and actors whose fame never rose above these unknown productions.
Young and director Dava Whisenant attempt to explain why the musicals and recordings were made in the first place, but the bizarre nature of them makes their ultimate meaning unreachable. Instead, much of the focus of the film is on how the discovery of the albums has affected Young and fellow collectors, as well as the memories of people like composer Sid Siegel and actor Patt Stanton Gjonola.
While there’s plenty of unintentional humor to be found in songs like “My Bathroom is a Private Kind of Place” and others created for the shows, the surprising thing about the film is how Young — and by extension, the audience — gets emotionally involved with the people he meets. Young may have started out using the music as grist for the comedy mill, but he ends up having a real reverence for it and those who used industrial musicals as a way to make a living.
Without spoiling it, the film has a whopper of an ending that puts a perfect capper on the wonderful, hilarious, and heartwarming documentary. Bathtubs Over Broadway is a must-see experience that proves that being open to a human connection can lead to some amazing discoveries.
Bathtubs Over Broadway is playing an exclusive one-week engagement at Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff.