Interviews: STEVE YOUNG & WAYNE BRYAN (Creator and Director of INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH BROADWAY; World Premiere at The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert)

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by Jason Mannino on February 6, 2024

in Interviews,Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


A few years back I discovered a fascinating theatrical vehicle referred to as the “industrial musical.” These were musicals commissioned by corporations (IBM, American-Standard, Detroit Diesel Engine, General Motors) to inspire, educate, develop teams, train employees, and more. Typically, they were developed to present at conferences, annual meetings, sales meetings, trade shows. What struck me most upon this discovery was that so many of the people who composed, lyricized, and performed these shows became common names in the theatrical canon. While many of these shows were immortalized on vinyl, they largely disappeared into the shadows and became a lost art form. At the time, I didn’t go beyond a superficial interest, hence, the discovery was relegated to the shadows of my mind as well.

So, I was thrilled when I recently stumbled upon a documentary that was born out of one man’s obsession with these shows. Luckily, Steve Young, on assignment during his 25 years as a writer for Late Night with David Letterman, discovered these bizarre cast recordings that were marked “internal use only.” Further exploration revealed full-throated Broadway-style musical shows about some of the most recognizable corporations in America: General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox. Steve developed an insatiable passion for these records and their history. He set out on a quest to collect as many of the recordings as he could, and subsequently starred in Dava Whisenant’s Bathtubs Over Broadway, a documentary feature that gives us the history and footage of these theatrical gems.

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick and Steve Young

Of course, glaringly missing from this documentary are live performances. The good news is you have an opportunity to see a cornucopia of these unlikely gem at The McCallum Theater on Thursday, February 8, 2024 at 7pm when Young emcees the world premiere of Industrial Strength Broadway – A Celebration of the American Corporate Musical that he co-created with Stuart Ross. Young gleefully reveals a world that transcends kitsch to reach a surprising level of profundity. He also shares ultra-rare film clips and jaw-dropping album covers from productions the public couldn’t see — which sometimes involved famous names like Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) and Harnick & Bock (Fiddler on the Roof). Directed by Broadway veteran Wayne Bryan, the one-night extravaganza features Broadway/National Tour and Coachella Valley stars Jenne Carey, Kellen Green, Kim Huber, Kevin McMahon, Lizzie Schmelling, and Patrick Wallace, who will offer live performances of striking numbers from shows such as The Bathrooms Are Coming! (American-Standard) and Diesel Dazzle (Detroit Diesel Engine).

Steve Young

Wayne Bryan and Steve Young chatted about
Industrial Strength Broadway with Stage and Cinema:

Jason Mannino: What inspired the desire to bring this from documentary to the stage?

Steve Young: Dava Whisenant’s 2018 documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway is brilliant, but it could only present brief excerpts of songs. With Industrial Strength Broadway, we get to present many terrific songs in their full glory along with lots of wonderful stories. A live theatrical production is the ultimate way to get a taste of this uniquely American art form.

Wayne Bryan: As Steve has noted, all of the songs you’ll hear in Industrial Strength Broadway were originally created to be heard onstage, sometimes written by composers and lyricists who never got their due, and sometimes by creators who became the biggest names in Broadway history. The performers who introduced these songs were often the most talented actor-singer-dancers of their generations. So, it seemed both fitting and delightful when Mitch Gershenfeld contacted Steve a year ago to talk about a stage tribute to the era of corporate industrials, and then I was delighted when Steve contacted me to come on board and helm the production for the McCallum. For people who love traditional Broadway, here’s a treasure trove of songs they’ve never heard before, performed by some of the most talented artists of the current generation.

Wayne Bryan

JM: Why are these industrial musicals important to revisit? Why is that important to you, specifically? 

SY: I believe that great work, even when done for a bizarrely narrow audience like tire salesmen or tractor dealers, has enduring value that should be celebrated. For me, the fact that these shows and songs are so arcane make them even more appealing, not less — they’re very funny, yes, but they also prove that creative people can make compelling art out of the least promising topics.

Also, these songs hearken back to a more optimistic, confident America, where people believed in their employers and their employers wanted them to be happy and productive for the long haul. That may be a corny oversimplification, but there’s some truth to it. And in this stressed, fractured age, we’re all trying to find ways to channel that optimism and unity. It will never be 1957 again, but these shows remind us that it is possible for us to strive for a common purpose and find joy in the striving.

WB: When I began my career as a musical theatre performer in the 1970s, some industrials were still being performed, and I have happy memories of being in about two dozen of them. They introduced me to some wonderful people who are still friends, and they were very instrumental in keeping me steadily employed as a performer, rather than having to take side jobs outside the show-biz profession.

Industrial Musical Album Covers

JM: These corporate musicals are gems of theater history. I’m surprised someone hasn’t created a show like this for an Off-Broadway or Regional house, and maybe even eventually Broadway. What do you think took so long? Why now?

SY: By design, this vast world was relegated to shadows. It’s only an accident of history that a few collectors like me found enough records to realize there was a huge genre that was completely off the grid of public awareness. And though my book Everything’s Coming Up Profits and Whisenant’s documentary have enjoyed a great reception, the realm of industrial musicals is still unknown to most people. We’re winning the world over, one wildly entertaining show at a time!

There actually have been a few interesting projects percolating in recent years as industrial musicals tiptoe cautiously into the zeitgeist. Some I’m involved with, some not. Stay tuned!

WB: I believe it sometimes takes a little bit of time for us to acquire enough perspective on an era to be able to assess its worth and its impact. And, of course, it takes a person like Steve Young, who combines the zeal of a dedicated archaeologist with the show-biz savvy of a charming stand-up writer and performer, to bring this hidden world into the light. I guess this whole genre was just waiting for Steve Young to find it, and to share it with us

JM: Are there any plans in the works for the show’s future? Off-Broadway?

SY: My co-writer Stuart Ross and I are planning a version of the show that will live in more intimate cabaret spaces. I hope that the big extravaganza will find new homes as well. It’s so much fun in any form, with dynamite music, comedy, astonishing visuals, heartfelt stories, and hidden Americana, that I expect we’ll be rolling it out in different directions for a long time.

Steve Young in Bathtubs Over Broadway (courtesy Focus Features)

JM: What can audiences expect from the show? And what do you want them to take away?

SY: We’re confident that the audience will be laughing much of the time, and other times watching in quiet amazement as a dazzling production of a strange but fantastic song takes their breath away. We’re sure that everyone will come away with the revelation that there are creative geniuses all around us, working on things we never imagined. And beyond the particulars of the wild industrial show tunes themselves, we know that people will be deeply touched by the story of a young comedy writer who accidentally found a secret showbiz universe that allowed him to get past his snarkiness and connect with his fellow man.

There are so many things audiences will be pondering after seeing Industrial Strength Broadway. How many other amazing creative worlds are invisible to me? Who am I passing on the street that’s the greatest practitioner of an art form I didn’t know existed? What odd little interests do I have that might blossom into something amazing if I pursued them? How many industrial applications for silicones are there, anyway? And can something be art if it was commissioned by a toilet company?

WB: Our assignment here was to simply make sure that McCallum audiences could see something uniquely created for them – a mixed media salute to a fascinating but unknown collection of traditional musical theatre numbers, performed by a dazzling lineup of talents with the evening under the musical direction of local musical genius Joel Baker. Having Broadway and Industrial veteran David Engel create delicious new video elements, which play throughout the evening, adds another unexpected and amusing element.  As director, my role has been to oversee the mixing of all these elements into a fast-paced, amusing, and genuinely touching reflection on America’s history, where “business” and “show business” uniquely combine. It’s a joy and an honor to work with all these talented people, and to create this one-of-a-kind entertainment for the region I now call home.

Illustrations from Everything's Coming Up Profits

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Industrial Strength Broadway –
A Celebration of the American Corporate Musical

The McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert
Thursday, February 8, 2024 at 7pm
for tickets ($35-$65), call 760.340.2787 or visit McCallum
for more info, visit Industrial Musicals

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