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.
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.
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.