Bathtubs Over Broadway offers some fascinating insight into the crazy world that is industrial musicals.
Steve Young, not to be confused with the football quarterback, used to work for David Letterman as a comedy writer on Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with David Letterman. As Letterman describes him, Young is “the last vestige of the heyday of the talk show television writers.” Working on a comedy show means that the comedy receptors have burned out.
During his time on Letterman, Young was the man placed in charge of finding albums for the “Dave’s Record Collection” bit. Young’s requirement was to find unintentionally funny records. What happened next was Young soon found himself knee deep in such a fascinating world of industrial musicals, including those for General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, and Xerox, etc. Most of these albums, unfortunately, are considered to be souvenir albums and not-for-broadcast. One such album was The Bathrooms Are Coming. There was something so fascinating about this album! Once the Ebay era started, anyone that tried to bid for the albums against Young didn’t even stand a chance!
Many people know some of the names for their work on Broadway, television, or movies but before they made it, they were making a career of it by doing industrial musicals. Such names included Martin Short, Florence Henderson, and Fiddler on the Roof‘s Sheldon Harnick. Short referred to it as a “dream job” while Hank Beebe, who wrote with Bill Heyer, likened it to being in the CIA. Beebe was one of the composers behind Diesel Dazzle.
These musicals were done more so for company employees than for the general public. They would bring in Broadway writers and Broadway actors. Some of the songs were just downright ridiculous and yet you can’t help but want more! It gets crazier though. My Fair Lady was produced for just $500,000 at the time it ran on Broadway. The Chevrolet show cost a whopping $3 million to produce!
What Young was ever able to do was get past his obsession with The Bathtubs Are Coming. The album eventually takes over his life. It leads him to get in touch with actors. This leads to a trip to Chicago and he soon makes it a mission to meet Sid Siegel.
Perhaps the rediscovery of this world may be one of Letterman’s greatest legacies. Because of the bit Steve Young unearthed the musicals and gave them a new day of life. If not for Young, these musicals would likely have been lost to history. These musicals represented the optimism of the 1950s through 1970s before dying out in the 1980s.
The documentary concludes with a show-stopping tune, “Take That Step,” from Beebe and Young. The well-choreographed number includes some of the people who were discovered as a result of the documentary. There’s so many fun songs throughout the entire film.
Bathtubs Over Broadway is able to preserve a lost era of industrial musicals and we’re all the better for it.
DIRECTOR: Dava Whisenant
FEATURING: Steve Young, David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera, Susan Stroman, Sheldon Harnick, Florence Henderson, Don Bolles, Jello Biafra, Hank Beebe, Sid Siegel