This Netflix Documentary Takes You Inside the World of Secret Musicals About Toilets, Cars and Dog Food
"Life can be so rich and wonderful when we step off the logical path and embark on eccentric adventures."
For a sentiment that sounds like it belongs in a fortune cookie, you'd never expect that Steve Young is actually referencing a subset of offbeat, secret musicals: Shows about toilets and tractors and dog food and cars. Shows with big names, like Bob Fosse attached, and even bigger Broadway-style budgets. Shows that were never seen by the public.
These musicals are the subject of Bathtubs Over Broadway, the Tribeca Film Festival–winning documentary that begins streaming on Netflix today.
Welcome to the world of industrial musicals. If you haven't heard of them, that's on purpose. Back in the 1960s, many companies produced elaborate musicals to be presented exclusively at sales meetings to get employees jazzed about their products.
Hundreds of shows were made, and, thankfully, some traces still remain—mostly in the form of LPs given to employees as souvenirs. In the '90s, Young started finding records of these mysterious shows, like The Bathrooms are Coming!, and he was understandably intrigued. Over the years, his interest grew into an obsession, which eventually birthed the Bathtubs Over Broadway documentary.
Screenshot of Bathtubs Over Broadway
Though shows made to pep up employees might sound corny, industrials had high production value and attracted top talent: performers like Chita Rivera and Martin Short, and directors like Fosse and Susan Stroman. (Laugh all you want, but Skittles echoed this strategy with its 2019 Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical, starring Michael C. Hall.)
What's more, these musicals were a boon for actors and dancers because corporate behemoths could afford to cut hefty paychecks. An article in The New Yorker even mentions that, according to Stroman, "an actor could make a year's living doing four industrial shows."
Curious yet? Queue up Bathtubs Over Broadway. But don't blame us if you can't stop singing about toilets all weekend long.
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
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