The Billy Barnes Revue
|The Billy Barnes Revue|
Cover of Original Cast Recording
|Productions||1959 Los Angeles|
1959 Off Broadway
The Billy Barnes Revue is a 1959 musical comedy revue with music and lyrics by Billy Barnes and sketches by Bob Rodgers. The revue premiered in Los Angeles in 1959 and went on to be produced both on Broadway and Off Broadway.
In 1952, actress Joyce Jameson graduated from UCLA and married songwriter Billy Barnes. Their first collaboration was a new musical comedy called Baby Face O'Flynn, for which she wrote the book and played the lead role and he wrote the music and lyrics. The show opened in the summer of 1952 at the Gallery Stage Theatre in Los Angeles. The run of the show was cut short when Jameson became pregnant. For the next few years, Jameson found work, first by writing television scripts, and then by playing small parts in films and on television shows. She and Barnes were divorced during this period, but continued to work together into the 1960s.
In 1956, Barnes and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers opened The Billy Barnes Revue at the "hole-in-the-ground" Cabaret Concert Theatre in Los Angeles. According to Barnes, "It's a nightclub, and people said that’s where we belonged. We were advised not to get ambitious."  Producer Paul Gregory planned to bring the production to New York in January 1957 under the title Focus No. 1, but the transfer did not happen.
At one point, some producers decided to tour the show throughout California with just the music and no sketches, a venture which was quickly dropped. Meanwhile, the original show continued performances at the Cabaret Concert Theatre for nearly two years. It then played briefly at the Mocambo and the Crescendo in Los Angeles and at the hungry i in San Francisco. In 1958, Jameson, who had left the show to pursue her television career, returned to Los Angeles from New York City (where she had been appearing as the "honey girl" on The Steve Allen Show and as a regular on Spike Jones' NBC series, Club Oasis),). She rejoined the cast of the show when it opened at the Las Palmas Theater in October 1958. When the original cast took the show to New York City eight months later, a new cast, including Jo Anne Worley, continued the run for a total of 48 weeks.
The Billy Barnes Revue, with original cast members Joyce Jameson, Bert Convy, Patti Regan, Ken Berry, Ann Guilbert, Jackie Joseph, Len Weinrib and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers, opened at the York Playhouse in New York City on June 9, 1959. The production was produced by George Eckstein (Ann Guilbert's husband) in association with Bob Reese. Billy Barnes was the musical director, with Armin Hoffman on the second piano.
The New York Times review by Lewis Funke was mixed: "A crisply played and highly polished little entertainment called The Billy Barnes Revue arrived at the York Theatre on First Avenue last night..." but Funke found the material lacking "...the trouble is that they have not given the material the edge, sharpness and point of view that would have made it truly comic". Although Funke had high praise for the cast, he added "...Too often are the performers superior to the writers and the composers." Overall, however, the reviews were largely positive, and 35 additional investors contributed the extra money needed to move the show from the York Playhouse to Broadway.
The Billy Barnes Revue transferred to the John Golden Theatre on August 4, 1959. Barnes was so unknown in New York, that many people confused him with the actress Binnie Barnes. "It's discouraging to stand in front of the theatre before the show," Barnes told a reporter, "and hear people say, 'I'm looking forward to seeing Binnie Barnes again. I haven't seen her in years.'"
To make way for the British revue, At the Drop of a Hat, the show closed on September 26, 1959 at the Golden and transferred on September 28 to the Lyceum Theatre, where it had to close on October 21 to make way for a new play, The Flowering Cherry. The production ran for a total of 87 performances.
One of the show's songs, "Too Long At The Fair" was recorded by Barbra Streisand, Sue Raney and Patti Page, among others. Decca Records released an Original Cast Album of the production in September 1959.
Off Broadway Again
Following its three-week run at the Lyceum Theatre, rather than closing down for good, the show moved off-Broadway again to the Carnegie Hall Playhouse on October 20, 1959. Producers George Cayley, George Brandt and Samuel J. Friedman acquired the rights from Eckstein, who remained with the production as stage manager and performed the role vacated by Bert Convy.
A controversy erupted when Barnes, Guilbert, Berry, Joseph, Regan, Rodgers, Weinrib and Eckstein flew to Chicago to tape an episode of ABC-TV's Playboy's Penthouse, produced by Hugh Hefner's Playboy Magazine, and failed to make their flight back to New York in time for the Tuesday, October 27 performance. As a result, the Tuesday night performance was cancelled and $800 had to be returned to the ticket holders.
Eckstein sent a telegram to the producers stating that the cast had made a "frantically conscientious effort to return to New York by curtain time as numerous impartial witnesses can testify; a dispatching error resulted in misconnections," but rather than simply recognizing the value of the network television publicity, the management filed a complaint with Actors' Equity Association and the American Federation of Musicians (of which Barnes was a member). "There’s no excuse for missing a show," declared the producers' lawyer, Benjamin Schankman. "They shouldn't have gone to Chicago if they could not arrange to get back in time. An agreement is an agreement."
Although one of the producers, Samuel J. Friedman, denied that their decision was a retaliatory action, two weeks later, the entire cast (except Virginia de Luce, who had replaced Jameson) was replaced by Ronnie Cunningham, Arlene Fontana, Jane Johnston, Larry Hovis, James Inman, Charles Nelson Reilly and Tom Williams.
The cast change proved to be a major mistake and the show closed on November 28, 1959 after just six weeks at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse. Ironically, the promotional appearance on Playboy's Penthouse by the original cast members did not air until Saturday, December 5, one week after the show had closed.
Several of the original cast members (Berry, Joseph, Jameson and Regan) returned to Los Angeles and began work on a new revue, The Billy Barnes People. The Billy Barnes People opened on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on June 13, 1961 and closed four days later after only seven performances.
Sketches and musical numbers
Selections on the Cast Album
- Kansas City Star, April 20, 1958, "Her Comedy Is Based On Actions Of Real People", p. 10D
- Kansas City Star, August 30, 1959, "Billy Barnes Plays the Long Shots – and Wins" by Jim Morse, pg 4E
- Press Telegram (Long Beach, CA), September 19, 1956, "New York to See Delightful Hollywood Revue"
- Internet Movie Database Spike Jones' NBC series, Club Oasis
- Lima (Ohio) News, August 13, 1960, Entertainment Section page 11, "Joyce Jameson Is A Girl Of Many Faces"
- Zolotow, Sam. "Role is Assigned to Anne Bancroft", The New York Times, May 15, 1959, p. 23: "The West Coast stand is to continue with another troupe that is being organized by George Eckstein and his associate, Bob Reese."
- Funke, Lewis. "Singing Revue; Billy Barnes' Show Opens at the York", The New York Times, June 10, 1959, p. 42
- Zolotow, Sam. "Revue Will Move To Golden Theatre", The New York Times, July 22, 1959, p. 21
- Kansas City Star, August 30, 1959, “Billy Barnes Plays the Long Shots – and Wins” by Jim Morse, p. 4E
- Gelb, Arthur. "Barnes Revue Gets Home", The New York Times, September 21, 1959, p. 36
- Zolotow, Sam. "Billy Barnes To Move", The New York Times, October 15, 1959, p. 47
- Zolotow, Sam. Photo caption, "Cupid's Partner", The New York Times, October 8, 1959, p. 48
- "Revue Producers Censure Its Cast", The New York Times, October 29, 1959, p. 36
- Zolotow, Sam. "New Cast Signed for Barnes Revue", The New York Times, November 12, 1959, p. 27
- "Revue Members To Appear On TV", The New York Times, November 30, 1959, p. 53:"Members of the cast of 'The Billy Barnes Revue' who were involved in a dispute with the producers of the stage presentation, will be seen on television here Saturday night. They will appear on WOR-TV (Channel 9) in the first of a new series entitled 'Playboy's Penthouse'."