KEENE -- When Steve Young first came across an vinyl recording for a Broadway-style musical about General Electric’s power industry, he didn’t know what started out as a gag for David Letterman’s talk show would end up changing his life.
“It was for a bit called ‘Dave’s Record Collection,’ and we were just looking for any weird vinyl record we could make fun of,” Young said.
The record, with songs about direct current and industrial power grids led Young on a journey into the hidden world of corporate musicals, some great, and some hilarious, which became the subject of the documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway.”
The movie is playing this weekend at the Monadnock International Film Festival, and Young will be on hand for a screening and question and answer session. Young said the world of corporate musicals are beautiful, and at the same time, flamboyantly weird.
“People think this cannot be real, it’s too elaborate and outlandish, there cannot have been full fledged broadway musicals about selling diesel engine, or Coca-Cola, of tractors” he said.
The musicals were commissioned for performances just for people within the companies at sales meetings, Young said, or for business to business promotions at conventions and trade shows. There were not performed for the general public, and most people outside these companies had no idea they existed, he said.
“They’re the last, very large, chunk of American culture in the last century that escaped noticed,” Young said.
The film, directed by Dava Whisenant and written by Whisenant and Ozzy Inguanzo, follows Young as he further explores the musicals, and meets many of the performers and artists behind them. That’s where he is able to drop the T.V. comedy writer cynicism, and make connections with people who gave their all for those hidden pieces of art, he said.
“Music has power, and when done right, it’s power worth seeing outside it’s original context,” he said.
Some of the people who got their start in the corporate musical world include performers like Martin Short and Chita Rivera. The G.E. musical Young first found was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose next production was “Cabaret.”
Some of the performers and creators never made it big, though. That doesn’t mean their contributions should be forgotten, Young said, and their story presents a central question in the movie.
“Can we take away inspiration from people who said ‘I must do my best work at all times even if no one else will understand it,’” Young said.
Young, who still writes as well as teaches and gives speaking presentations, said making the movie has helped him become a better person.
“I’m more ready to meet people and find out what they do,” he said. “Anybody you meet might be the best at something you don’t understand.”