“My Insurance Man.” “Lucite, You and ’72.” “Tractors a Go-Go.” These musical extravaganzas hardly are “Hamilton” or “Fiddler on the Roof,” but they were part of a mid-20th-century tradition in which Big Business commissioned lavish musical stage entertainments for conventions and sales meetings, designed to entertain and inspire the men and women who would go home reinvigorated to sell life insurance or steel-belted radials.
Steve Young, a writer for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” became fascinated with “industrial musical” records he found in thrift shops, and began collecting them, along with commemorative films that were made from these elaborate spectacles.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” chronicles his crate-digging obsession of productions like the “1967 Dog Chow Spectacular,” in which an Ann-Margret manque wiggles her way through a salute to dog food. Young interviews people like Martin Short and Florence Henderson, who made a living doing industrial musicals before becoming famous, and lyricist/composer Sheldon Harnick, who cut his teeth writing these one-and-done extravaganzas before hitting it big with “Fiddler.” The best part of Young's journey, though, is his tracking down the leads of “The Bathrooms Are Coming,” one of the most lavish examples of the industrial genre.
The result is a fun, breezy documentary about American optimism and artistic yearning. Besides, where else are you going to see clips from “Raguletto,” surely the world's only opera about Ragu spaghetti sauce?