BUYER & CELLAR Dazzles Now thru August 31st!
Hodges and Hodges were practically giddy with anticipation and almost drooling at the thought of seeing Michael Urie in his one-person show Buyer & Cellar, which is all about the amazing, magnificent, brilliant (and sometimes a teeny-tiny bit OCD) Barbra Streisand. We knew going in that it wasn't a "tribute show" in which Urie would do a dead-on impersonation of the star. And he wasn't doing a "History of Babs" show. So, whaaaat? Whaaat was it going to be like? We were fearful. Would it be a dish session on our favorite performer of all time? We were farklempt, to put it mildly.
Well, the waiting is over and we loved it! It's playing now through August 31 only - so please, please, please, go, go go, get your tickets now!
Buyer & Cellar was written by Jonathan Tolins, the writing genius behind this 90-minute comedy. The simple premise of the play belies his clever, witty and ultimately moving writing style, not to mention his comedic prowess. Wow. But how did he come up with the idea?
As Michael Urie shared with us in our interview with him, "Playwright Jon Tolins had seen the book, "My Passion for Design," in which Barbra shows off her basement mall, and in a lively discussion at a party quipped, "How'd you like the be the guy who works down there?" The rest is history!"
In her real - that's right - real basement shopping mall, filled with the many treasures she's collected over the years, Tolins' comedy explores the fictional relationship that out-of-work actor Alex More ends up having with Barbra Streisand herself. Buyer & Cellar stars the aforementioned Michael Urie whom we all know for his role as Marc St. James on "Ugly Betty." More recently he did a great turn as Bud Frump on Broadway in How To Succeed in Business.
After some introductory notes to the audience, Urie's Alex More takes us down into the basement. The set is static, but he paints a beautiful and hilarious word picture of what the different shops are and what's in each one.
Nick: The show opens with a single room painted in a single color. "Putty?" asks Alex, looking at the walls. "Linen? Putty-linen?" What do you think Barbra would call the color?
Linda: Barbra would say, as she did on Oprah, "It's actually off-white to match my sweater. I like simplicity and monochromatic frames." That's Streisand. Simply Streisand. Andrew Boyce's set design was a send-up of Barbra's penchant for that simplicity. He also had a table stage right, replete with the requisite teapot and cup, which she always has on stage with her - all in off-white as well, of course!
Nick: OMG, did she actually say that on Oprah? Never mind. I thought Boyce's minimalist design worked beautifully with Alex Koch's projection designs. We're informed that the basement mall changes color as the light changes outside. Up comes a beautiful purple tone. As Alex describes it, "Like when Dorothy steps from sepia into Technicolor." Each diffused projection, stretching across the entire top part of the upstage wall, made us feel as if we were down there in the mall with Alex.
Linda: The idea that Barbra would have someone working in the basement is a fantastic concept. And as the story evolves, the friendship that transpires between Alex and Barbra is absolutely fascinating and soooo funny!
Nick: I know! There is just enough reality in Barbra's character to lure you in and make it believable. The real Streisand's sometimes obsessive complexities can make you almost believe that she could do something like this; probably why she hasn't seen the show yet.
Linda: I don't imagine that she'll see it, but I actually think she would love it in a Barbra Roast-y kind of way. It would be great if she could connect with the show in some fashion. Barbra Streisand, if you're reading, I definitely think you should invite Tolins and Urie out to see the basement. It would be great fun and maybe Nick and I could tag along. Just a thought! And Nick, I wouldn't say she's obsessive. It's just attention to detail.
Nick: We all love Babs, but as she walks around the mall browsing around her own things, there is a reason for Alex saying to the audience, "What's next to normal?" Playwright Tolins is referencing the musical Next To Normal here, in which the character Diana struggles with being bi-polar. I'm not saying Streisand is bi-polar or anything like that, but she is a very complex woman that we don't really know too much about. She's mysterious. It leaves a lot to interpretation.
Linda: I disagree. I think she's opened herself up and has been quite vulnerable in telling us about herself over the years, which is why I found the play to be so touching at various points. There is just something about her that is so intriguing. The interactions between Alex and her are mesmerizing - and remember - he's up there by himself! When she comes downstairs to shop amongst her own things the psychological aspects of her character could fill a book. You just can't help but think that deep down that tells us something about the real Barbra - because she's already pretty much shared what she's like so it doesn't seem like such a stretch. Tolins does a masterful job taking that knowledge and imagining her into being.
Nick: And the play has a marvelous flow. Director Stephen Brackett is to be commended. And whoever helped Urie memorize his lines deserves a Tony just for that! Urie was astounding! And yes, I agree that Tolins take on Barbra is true-to-life, even if completely fictional.
Linda: Tolins finesses the mix of humor and pathos to perfection. It's extremely funny and then, before you realize it, you're in a touching moment. He is adroit at the plant-payoff sequence of a show and creates a sublime emotional experience for the audience. I love his Barbra.
Nick: The show points to an undertone of loneliness that seems to invariably come with being so stratospherically famous. To be on "the top of the mountain" like she has been for her entire career must be isolating.
Linda: I think that's why this show is so believable.
Nick: When Alex asks her if she could have any utopia; that fantasy deep down inside, I'm not ashamed to admit it, her answer made me tear up.
Linda: Alex and Barbra are a great combination. (I can't believe how easy it is to talk about these two characters as if they are two separate actors. Michael Urie is a genius). I love that he starts helping her work on the film version of Gypsy (which actually might happen in real life).
Nick: As Alex and Barbra get closer you really believe they are friends. Through the quirkiness of the show there is a real bond there.
Linda: Yes, and, lest the show start veering into too much saccharine sweetness, Tolins has Alex's boyfriend Barry deliver some "OMG, I can't believe you're falling for that" lines that serve to bring us back down to earth. The twist at the end was hysterical. You thought it was leading one way and then, bam! Totally went in a different direction.
Nick: My favorite line in the whole show is when Alex is standing alone amongst all of Barbra's things. "All that effort. All those things. It seems to me the stuff you put [into yourself] is more important than the things outside of it." The show has a wonderful arc to it.
Linda: But it's only here until the 31st, which is next week. Seriously, get your tickets now and do let us know what you think of the show!