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Bathtubs Over Broadway Movie Review

One Kitchenware Sensation

A catchy musical can be written about anything - even silicon moldings. At least, that's what director Dava Whisenant's amusingly endearing documentary, "Bathtubs Over Broadway," has taught me. Focused on the little-known world of Industrial Musicals, the film chronicles one man's journey to uncover everything he can about this comically odd yet surprisingly well-produced secret genre of entertainment. Most popular from the 50s through the 80s, these elaborate shows and albums were only produced for corporate sales meetings and conventions. Beyond serving as souvenirs for employees, they were never really meant to be heard... until now.

When working on a bit for "Late Night with David Letterman," comedy writer Steve Young discovers some strange old musical records about different commercial products produced exclusively for the workers of various businesses. Though the albums feature fully-produced numbers and catchy songs, they all bizarrely focus on their respective corporate brands, espousing the melodic glories of everything from cars and refrigerators to tractors and toilets. Now exposed to the secret world of Industrial Musicals, Young becomes fascinated by the once-popular but little known practice. Determined to track down other rare records, he embarks on a quest to learn more about the creative men and women behind these seldom heard bits of musical history.

After clueing us in on who Young is and what Industrial Musicals are, the documentary goes on to gradually unravel the hows and whys behind this mostly forgotten genre. We follow Young as he swaps records with other collectors and soon begins to hunt down the actual musicians and writers credited on the albums. A mixture of fly-on-the-wall handheld camera work, talking head interviews, and wonderful archive audio and video recordings of the Industrial Musicals themselves make up the majority of the film, weaving a playfully amusing and increasingly endearing story about lost art and fandom passion for the obscure.

While the musical clips and facts behind their existence are funny and genuinely entertaining in their own right, it's Young's sit-down interviews with the talent responsible for them that ultimately prove to be the documentary's most affecting aspect. As we learn, the corporate genre was home to some big-name talent before they became stars, including songwriter Sheldon Harnick ("Fiddler on the Roof"), and performers like Chita Rivera ("West Side Story"), Martin Short ("¡Three Amigos!"), and Florence Henderson (The Brady Bunch). But the most insightful details are offered by the otherwise unknown stars - like songwriters Hank Beebe, Michael Brown, and Sid Siegel, and singers Patt Stanton Gjonola and Sandi Freeman - who made regular careers in the Industrial Musical World. As Young chats with them and forms unexpected connections, the film unearths various funny, sweet, and surprisingly emotional nuggets tied to their careers and artistic pursuits.

What starts as a joke for Steve Young becomes a genuine passion for something unduly ignored and thrown away. Sure, a musical about insurance salesmen written for insurance salesman might not ever carry the same weight as a Broadway show, but the actual talent behind the songs prove to be just as worthy of creative recognition. More than just an intro to a little-known oddity of the entertainment business, "Bathtubs Over Broadway" becomes a celebration of discovering and loving the otherwise discarded and unloved. It's an "eccentric adventure" about finding your creative niche and unearthing hidden, secret, wonderful an infectiously catchy song about bathrooms:

"My bathroom, my bathroom. Is much more than it may seem. Where I wash and where I cream. A special place where I can stay and cream, and dream, and dream, and dream, dream." 

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