Words and videography by Joseph Schroeder, who has managed the production of highly acclaimed educational and informational programming for networks such as PBS, A&E and National Geographic for over a decade. Currently the Vice President of Production and Operations of The Independent Production Fund. Follow him on Twitter and see more of his work on his website.
“It was supposed to be all thrown away and forgotten, but we played a trick on history and saved it.” So opens the first entry in Stranger Than Fiction’s Fall 2018 Season, Bathtubs Over Broadway. The film immediately introduces us to Steve Young, a self-described ‘comedy-damaged’ writer for the Late Show with David Letterman. Steve realizes he doesn’t have many interests outside his day job, but a new show segment starts him on an unlikely journey. His job for this one particular segment is to find obscure songs from industrial musicals. Yes, you read that correctly… industrialmusicals.
Following the rise of musical theater to immense popularity in the 50s and 60s, many large corporations – General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox, among others – started staging full fledged musical productions at their regional annual sales meetings. This in turn launched the broadway careers of some of the most recognizable names of that era – Chita Rivera, Kander & Ebb, Florence Henderson, and Bob Fosse. Steve, an admitted non-Broadway fan, became transfixed by these recordings, and thought to himself, “I should have them all. I will have them all eventually.” He’s clearly excited, but not just excited about collecting something – he’s experiencing the joy we all have in connecting to the things we hold dear.
What follows is both a hilarious and heartwarming journey of Steve discovering an entire world that he, and admittedly most of America, knew nothing about. As he dug deeper, he found that “these weren’t jingles, these weren’t commercials, these were full fledged broadway shows for an audience.” These musicals included songs about almost anything you can think of – polyester, spark plugs, even pasta. One musical, The Bathrooms Are Coming, contains what Steve describes as the ‘gateway drug’ to this world, the song ‘My Bathroom.’ Steve gushes that it is “perfection on vinyl.” (You can hear it here.) It’s clear to the audience that he’s no longer just a collector, but is entirely consumed by this magical world he’s discovered.