While searching vintage record stores for albums to use as comic fodder for “The Late Show With David Letterman,” comedy writer Steve Young stumbled into the decades-long quest chronicled in the charming, goofy documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway.” The object of Young’s obsession? The hidden world of industrial musical theater.
Out of the post-war boom of the 1950s rose “industrials,” full-blown stage shows and revues produced and financed by corporations for the sole purpose of inspiring their sales forces to sell, sell, sell and sell some more. They were not advertised and you could not buy a ticket, but for 30 years, these productions provided steady work for Broadway writers, composers, directors and performers.
Fortunately for Young, these shows were often recorded on vinyl as “souvenirs” for employees. “Bathtubs,” directed By Dava Whisenant, follows Young as he meets other avid collectors, tracks down participants and eventually co-authors a book, “Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals.”
There is a guileless quality to the enterprise as Young interviews stars such as Chita Rivera, Florence Henderson and Martin Short who worked in industrials, as well as the lesser known performers and songwriters who became his heroes. This, and the fact that the proceedings coincide with the end of the Letterman show, where Young worked for a quarter of a century, provide a poignancy that quickly disarms any cynicism one might feel toward this “Mad Men”-era of white male-dominated capitalism.
‘Bathtubs Over Broadway’
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica