While watching Dava Whisenart’s documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway, she runs a bit on the old Late Night With David Letterman called “Dave’s Record Collection.” In this bit, Dave would play some tracks from an unusual record on weird subjects like the love of bread. I loved this segment, and I remember the young version of me wondering if these songs were real or oddly strange parodies. Well, they were real, and they came from the record collection of long-time Letterman writer, Steve Young, who uncovered an entire genre of music known as the industrial musical. These musicals and one man’s obsession over them is the subject of Bathtubs Over Broadway.
Never heard of industrial musicals? Most haven’t. During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, large corporations would hold either large sales event for client sales meetings, employee training or large shareholder meetings. A musical was made for every industry and corporation like Coca-Cola, Purina, General Electric, and American Standard. These corporate geniuses would hire Broadway writers, composers, and performers to create and perform customized musicals while incorporating important news or the newest product line into these performances. Sometimes as a gift, attendees would receive cast recording albums, and it would be these albums Young hunts in the doc.
Industrial musicals were considered a big deal. These musicals would cost up to three times as much as a typical Broadway musical and in most cases would only be performed one time only. This often meant that after the big performance, any proof this strange extravaganza ever happened disappeared into the ether.
“These corporate geniuses would hire Broadway writers, composers, and performers to create and perform customized musicals…”
Bathtubs Over Broadway is as much as Steve Young’s story of his industrial musical obsession as it is the uncovering of this hidden genre of music. Two things strike you when you meet Steve Young. First is his comedic brilliance. There’s a reason he wrote for Letterman from the very beginning including NBC. His comedy is shown not just from old Letterman footage, but in the way he interacts with fellow collectors and the general public.
Second, Young’s mission to be the preeminent authority on the industrials. We’re introduced to his massive record collection, coupled with his determination to own every single album in existence. We spy in on his interactions with fellow collectors (totaling just four), and we get a peek into his collection process as he scours eBay for something new.
The other joy of the film is the wide range of performances Young found either on YouTube, or in the 8mm films he uncovered, and the rare record finds. Attention is giving to a musical called The Bathrooms are Coming! And its showstopping ballad, “My Bathroom.”
My bathroom, my bathroom
Is a private kind of place
Very special kind of place
The only place where I can stay making faces at my face…
My bathroom, my bathroom
Is much more than it may seem
Where I wash and where I cream
A special place where I can stay and cream and dream and dream
“You’re definitely going to laugh and laugh out loud.”
Not willing to simply be satisfied hanging out with fellow collectors, Young reaches out to the performers and artists who appeared in these musicals. He finds the pretty Purina Girl, and then the two female leads in The Bathrooms Are Coming! There are even celebrity interviews including Martin Short and famed Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman. Most of the performers made considerable amounts of money in these single performances, which helped meet living expenses as they pursued work on the Great White Way.
Bathtubs Over Broadway is an odd documentary. You’re definitely going to laugh and laugh out loud. Young has several hilarious moments with his subjects, and the absurdity of these musicals and songs create an endless stream of silly giggles. Feel good moments come in the way that Young connects with these artists, who thought their hard work would fade into oblivion. There’s a tiny bit a joy in these old songwriters knowing at least one person appreciated their work.
Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018) Directed by Dava Whisenant. Written by Ozzy Inguanzo, Dava Whisenant. Starring Steve Young, David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera. Bathtubs Over Broadway screened at the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars