BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Endearing is the first word that comes to mind when talking about this engaging documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway. I took someone with me to the screening of this funny film that doesn’t care for musical theater and even they loved the movie.
Bathtubs Over Broadway documents the quest that Steve Young, a lead and longest tenured comedy writer on the Late Show with David Letterman, took collecting recordings of industrial musical theater. What is industrial musical theater you may ask, well simply put its musical theater productions created solely to be used at conventions for company salespeople. Full-throated Broadway-style musical shows about recognizable corporations in America: General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox and the like. Starting in the 1950s and going through the 1970s there was a big hidden industry that only the performers and the people attending the conventions knew about. These shows varied widely in size and often paid well – helping performers to afford to live in NYC and serving as a training ground for creatives that would go on to create and produce such well-known shows as Cabaret and Fiddler On The Roof. Martin Short says in the film, “it was a dream job” that paid great and kept actors in swanky hotels; Tony-winner Susan Stroman recalls that “you could afford to live in New York on four industrials a year” — and could actually become a better actor by doing them.
Steve only stumbled on the recordings while gathering material for a segment on Late Night, haunting used record shops to find music for Dave to make fun of. However, what started as a bit for the show changed Steve’s life forever. Up till then, he had few interests outside of his day job, so this new passion for an unknown art form changed him for the better. Steve didn’t know much about musical theater, but these recordings marked “internal use only” delighted him in a way nothing ever had before. He spent years tracking down rare albums and unseen footage of such productions as Diesel Dazzle. He met fellow Obsessives at flea markets and through online auctions. People like Ariel Pink drummer Don Bolles who is one of a few celebrity collectors. Taking his research even further, he met with composers and performers in the hopes that they could shed more light on the productions themselves and perhaps have recordings he could not find. Because of this he formed unlikely friendships and discovered that his discarded musical genre starring tractors and bathtubs was bigger than Broadway. Steve eventually decided to write a book about the genre meeting his hero show creators along the way.
Bathtubs Over Broadway is pure Americana and a sort of non-stop nostalgia that comes across as something fresh. It’s a perfect absurdity, and you will leave the theater smiling and humming to yourself. This film’s joy is contagious and what an excellent way to start the New Year. I give this film an A+ rating and hope you will seek it out and enjoy it as much as I have.
Directed by Dava Whisenant
Written By Ozzy Inguanzo, Dava Whisenant
Selig Rating A+
Running Time 1hr 27min
Documentary / Comedy
Limited Release Texas Theater
Starring: Steve Young, David Letterman, Martin Short, Chita Rivera, Florence Henderson
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.