It is no secret that I do love a good theatrical production. The lights, the singing, the dancing, the choreography, and the sales product knowledge? Wait a minute here…
Apparently, this was actually a thing at one point. Starting in the mid twentieth century, companies would send all of their salespeople to a resort location for a few days of meetings and getting-to-know-you stuff, and often these conferences were capped off by a full-blown musical production introducing the attendees to a new product or helping sharpen their skills through storytelling. Longtime “Late Show with David Letterman” writer Steve Young stumbled into a love for these and his story and research on these are the subject of Dava Whisenant’s documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway”.
For years, Letterman would do a segment on his show called “Dave’s Record Collection,” where Young and the writing staff would comb local stores for strange and different albums that would even get a track played on the show. When Young found one that was a recording of one of these “industry shows,” he became fascinated with the concept of these one-shot productions that would far outspend actual Broadway shows that were often recorded for either posterity or to show to other branch operators later. From Burger King to Xerox, Ford, and even General Electric, these were written by great songwriters like Sid Siegel and acted out by the likes of people like Martin Short, Florence Henderson, and Chita Rivera early in their careers. Young even finds others that revel in this new hobby of his like Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra, and the deeper he goes into his research, the more amazing levels there are to his story, even finding a couple of holy grails he never thought he would.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” is one of those films that completely took me off guard in the best of ways. Once I figured out what was going on (and believe me, I didn’t even know this was a thing), I found myself just as riveted by Young’s journey as he seemed to be. The cheesiness of these productions both had me shaking my head and laughing out loud, and seeing those times through the eyes of their creators and even performers made it that much more amazing to watch. There are even a couple of moments where video evidence of some of the productions are found and shown, and they are IMPRESSIVE. I was even pleasantly surprised to see an old company my mother worked for represented as Young was looking through the LP collection of one of his peers. The added bonus of seeing a bit of behind the scenes of the final days of “The Late Show with David Letterman” gives this film the shot in the arm that actually kept the story going for me.
Whether this type of thing is your cup of tea or not, I truly believe it is worth the less than ninety minutes it takes to bear witness to the greatness of “Bathtubs Over Broadway”. You might just find a new hobby yourself!