Imagine getting hired to work in Barbra Streisand’s basement or pseudo shopping mall tending her tchotchkes, costumes and doll collection? That is the premise of a truly funny one-man comedy that made its Los Angeles debut at the Mark Taper Forum this week – Buyer & Cellar – with highly engaging and entertaining Michael Urie as the funny man dealing with the Funny Girl herself.
The play’s plot was inspired by Streisand’s actual cellar that she described and depicted in her 2010 book, My Passion for Design, in which she talked about the design of buildings on her Malibu compound. One element revealed in the book was that the diva turned her barn’s basement into a custom-made shopping mall or row of village shops —a doll shop, a sweet shop, a vintage clothing boutique, a gift shoppe, and more to house her vast collection of “stuff.” (One “store” contains costumes from some movies, including her Oscar winning role in Funny Girl and outfits from Hello, Dolly!)
Written by Jonathan Tolins, Buyer & Cellar turns that real-life fake mall into the play’s winning look at the life of the famous, the life of struggling wanna-be actors and a weird way their paths might cross. Tolins’ idea, which came to him after seeing the book in a store, was to create a character recruited as a pretend salesman tending to the one and only customer – the diva herself – in the pretend shopping mall.
Alex’s interaction with Streisand starts when she comes to the “doll shop” and they haggle over the price of an item that the actress, obviously, already owns. He cheekily tells her the price is non-negotiable. This leads to a series of interaction and a comfortable repartee, with Alex becoming a somewhat confidant.
The play is full of references to Streisand’s various movies, aspects of her life and notoriously difficult, demanding personality. Even at the onset, Alex tells the audience what actually is true versus made up so they know what could “have happened with a person as famous, talented, and litigious as Barbra Streisand.”
While the show itself at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles is good, it is Urie who makes it a truly worthwhile theater experience. The 33-year-old Urie (Ugly Betty, Partners) plays all of the characters in the 100-minute show with such charm, winsomeness and engagement including the primary character, an unemployed actor named Alex More; Streisand herself and Alex’s boyfriend, Barry.
The Juilliard-trained actor isn’t spot-on in his Streisand characterization, but Urie is good enough to make it clear just in his mannerisms that he is Barbra. But Urie is best and most charming as Alex, the struggling gay actor acting like a worker in Barbra’s make-believe mall set, and his gossipy chats with the audience about Barbra, her book, his former job in Disneyland and more.
A truly funny comedy about dealing with the actual Funny Girl star, Buyer & Cellar is still playing in New York City with Barrett Foa as Alex. The touring show with Urie will remain in Los Angeles through August 17, 2014. It then moves to San Francisco for the remainder of the month, Dallas for one week in September 3-6 and then Toronto, Ontario, from November 11-30, 2014 before opening in London.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss
July 12, 2014 Performance at Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles
Buyer & Cellar