BWW Reviews: Late Great Composer Billy Barnes Gets His Due via Live Kritzerland Tribute at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal
Many people do not realize, with the exception of us theatre junkies, that Billy Barnes, who regretfully passed from us in September of last year, was without a doubt the keenest composer of the theatre revue. He also created special material for TV's Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show, among others. His ingenious theatre revues date back to the 50s with The Billy Barnes Revue of 1959 all the way up to 1983's Movie Star, which had a long run at the Westwood Playhouse, now known as the Geffen. Bruce Kimmel remembers, as he knew the man well and recorded Billy Barnes' L.A. Thanks to Kimmel a whole generation of musical theatre fans got a chance to hear up close and personal some of Barnes' greatest, yet little known achievements at a special Kritzerland show Billy! on Saturday March 2 at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal.
There was a dazzling array of talent on display with 7 singers, including very special guest stars Jo Anne Worley and Nancy Dussault, both of whom performed songs Billy Barnes had written especially for them. Others in the ensemble included: the hilarious Susanne Blakeslee, Robert Yacko, Jane Noseworthy, Chelsea Emma Franko and new to Kritzerland cute, petite Caitlynne Medrek.
The evening began with a big screen view of a second season episode of Kimmel's webseries Outside the Box, popular on BWW, which takes hit movies and attempts horrorifically to turn them into stage musicals: they just plain and simple should never be done, ever! This one was a musical based on Taxi Driver with Euan Morton of Taboo fame playing the DeNiro role and singing "Are You Talking To Me?". Fun, crazy stuff!
Then Kimmel wisked into Billy! with the satirical opener "LA Is" mixed with "Covina" and "Burbank" dueted jubilantly by Chelsea Emma Franko and Robert Yacko. Jane Noseworthy followed with a fine rendition of Barnes' first big hit the sultry "Something Cool". Through the years this song has turned into a cabaret singer's dream, especially when performed in a showroom/bar. Noseworthy returned later with a terribly amusing "Weather Report", a sendup of LA's unchanging conditions. Comedic star Susanne Blakeslee slayed with three hilarious tunes "Where Are Your Children?" from Billy Barnes People of 1961, "The Queen of Equity Waiver", a delight, which had been written for and recorded by Carole Cook and "A Little Lift" from Kimmel's revue What If? for which Barnes had written this showstopping tune about Hollywood's take on an actress looking her very best. Ovation winner Blakeslee was a welcomed addition to the Kritzerland lineup, displaying her unique and dynamic flair for bringing down the house. Petite Caitlynne Medrek was also a welcomed addition, reminding one of very funny Barbara Sharma, for whom Barnes had composed "Naughty Little Girl". Medrek essayed this and "New Girl" with impish charm. Yacko scored big with "Ambivalent", a wonderful number about being bisexual, Franko was a winner with Barnes' greatest hit "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?" and Noseworthy had another coup with "I'm The Only One" from 1983's Movie Star for which Kimmel had unsuccessfully auditioned. One thing that can be said of Barnes was he kept all his lyrics fresh, provocative and... saucy... never, to quote Jo Anne Worley's fav expression..."bor...ing!"
Two piece-de-resistance numbers of the evening were, speak of the devil, Jo Anne Worley's "My Inner Child" performed with ecstatic, unrestrained bravura, which we have come to expect from her...and Nancy Dussault's lovely "Captain's Daughter", which Barnes described as "not funny, but a pretty song", and that it is, done brilliantly by the warm, adorable Dussault.
Billy! was a great Kirtzerland show with prolific musical director Lloyd Cooper at the piano and with Kimmel providing plenty of anecdotes and laughs throughout. But what we take away most is an appreciation for the immense talent of Billy Barnes who wrote such undeniably funny lyrics. He will be sorely missed. Shop Kritzerland for the CD Billy Barnes' L.A.
Next month on Sunday April 7 Kritzerland will return to its regular first.Sunday.of.the.month slot with a salute to Comden and Green. Make early reservations! Call (818) 754-8700!