BWW Interviews: BUYER & CELLAR'S Michael Urie
This month, San Francisco is in for a scrumptious theatrical treat called Buyer & Cellar, which is touring the country after rave reviews Off-Broadway in New York.
The one-person, 90-minute show stars Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty," Broadway's How To Succeed in Business...) and was written by Jonathan Tolins (The Twilight of the Golds on Broadway among many other works!). You can catch Urie in Buyer & Cellar at SHNSF's Curran Theater, August 19-31, 2014. It's a hot show, so we advise you to get your tickets now!
Hodges & Hodges was lucky enough to score an interview with Michael Urie and we had a blast getting to know him better. He's super funny and was a good sport about doing a slightly unconventional interview with us. Thank you, Michael, for a great interview!
Linda: Hi, Michael - thank you for doing this interview with BroadwayWorld-SF and welcome to the City by the Bay!
Michael Urie: Thank you!!!! It's my pleasure and I'm delighted to be interviewed by the great mother/son team of Hodges & Hodges!
Nick: Oh, the pleasure is all ours! Loved, loved, loved you in "Ugly Betty," and heard raves about you in How to Succeed in Business... Have you worked here in San Francisco before?
Michael Urie: My sister lives with her family in Berkeley so I've been visiting the Bay Area for many years, but this is my first time working here.
Linda: Well, here's to many more working visits on the west coast for you. And I must say you're starting off with a bang with Buyer & Cellar. In a nutshell, how would you describe this current undertaking?
Michael Urie: It's a totally fictional tale of a completely fictional guy, who gets a job working in the absolutely real basement mall in Barbra Streisand's Malibu home, and his one "customer."
Nick: Where did the idea for the show come from?
Michael Urie: 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!
Linda: Don't you think that what may seem eccentric and over-the-top to us plebs, might not appear that way to say, the Queen of England, whose 19 grand hallways are graced with priceless pieces of art and timeless treasures? It could be argued that Barbra Streisand's "stuff" is historically significant and therefore deserving of museum-like stature.
Nick: Okay, full disclosure time, Michael. My mom waited 26 hours in line to buy tickets to Barbra's 1994 Concert. She once said she'd leave my dad for Babs. And she's straight. Michael, in arguably one of the gayest, Barbra-loving cities in the world, how do you think Buyer & Cellar will play? Your show throws some punches at what some might call the queen of show biz. I mean, do you fear that her fans may mob you? (Do you think your gay card could be revoked??)
Michael Urie: Ha! That's a lot of information! This is ultimately a total love letter to Babs - I, too, am a huge fan, and actually got my first taste of la Streisand with MY mom, watching the '94 concert on PBS. It was totally fab. So, while there is fun to be had at Barbra's expense, I would never want to be part of anything truly disparaging of her!
Linda: I want you to know, Michael, that I will not let my undying love for Barbra Streisand get in the way of giving you a....fair review when we see the show. Your mother sounds amazing, by the way.
Nick: Don't worry, Michael. I've got your back!
Michael Urie: Thanks, Nick! Phew!
Nick: LOL - you're welcome! So, Michael, let's talk more about the mall at Barbra's house.
Michael Urie: Let's!
Nick: Is it as eccentric as it sounds?
Linda: I protest!
Nick: Pay no attention to the crazed Barbra fan, Michael! I'll answer my own question - it is eccentric. What do you think makes Barbra - "Barbra?" Do you think it started with her taking one of the "A's" out of her name? I mean, what if she had gone instead with "Barbie?" Certainly the Malibu Dream House, complete with personal basement mall fits the name Barbie better.
Michael Urie: Ha! Interesting idea... I think Barbra was born a genius, and geniuses are often eccentric. Some cut off their ears, some drive golden cars onstage; Barbra has a mall.
Linda: Let's move on, shall we...? Let's talk about the lucky, lucky Alex, who is the out-of-work actor who gets the plumb job of working in the mall of Barbra's basement. Can you describe him for us?
Michael Urie: Sure! Alex is a witty and charming struggling actor in LA, recently fired from Disneyland. He's not a "Barbra queen," but certainly appreciates her, and knows a thing or two about her. And, thanks to his acting training - and improv classes at The Groundlings - can play along with anything the lady of the house throws his way when she comes "shopping" on Main Street.
Nick: Wow - I just finished a college internship as a Disney cast member. I would love for my next job to be working with Barbra Streisand - or at least reviewing one of her shows! Michael, besides Barbra, you characterize her husband, actor James Brolin as well. What fun! As for Malibu Barbra, did you channel early Babs, Yentl Barbra, Meet the Focker's Barbra - or some combination thereof?
Michael Urie: Combo for sure. We wanted the zany fun of early Barbra, with the mature contemplation of recent Barbra. Meet the Fockers was most helpful, but a lot of my memories of the '94 concert found their way into "my Barbra."
Linda: Michael, now you're talking! You also play Alex's boyfriend, Barry, and the housekeeper, too. I'm sure Tolins had somewhat defined characters written. But did they evolve at all during the initial readings or rehearsal process? What process did you go through to make the characters your own?
Michael Urie: The trickiest was finding definitive voices for Alex and Barry who are both 39ish gay men. But the great thing about playing dialogue scenes with myself is that each scene has a carefully written conflict within, so it's pretty easy to jump from character to character, as long as I remember what side of an argument I'm on.
Nick: How fun! In the show, Alex says at one point (and I paraphrase) that Brooklyn is the American cradle of invention, heart, humor and moxie. I would say that those words also describe Ms. Streisand. Michael, you've earned the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and the Clarence Derwent Award, as well as an Outer Critics Circle Nomination for Buyer & Cellar. Not only that, you have a Drama Desk Award for your work in the The Tempermentals. On top of that, you were nominated twice for a SAG award for your ensemble work in the hit TV show "Ugly Betty." Clearly you're a multi-talented star in film, television and theatre, including your wow performance as Bud Frump in How To Succeed in Business, on Broadway in 2012. What legacy words do you hope are said about you?
Michael Urie: Oh wow, any at all, I guess! I hope that I am able to continue to work in many facets of show biz. I've wanted to be a part of it since I was 8, and am having a ball, so I dunno "Jack of all trades in that one trade?"
Linda: Well, Michael, with your body of work thus far, you are definitely on your way toward earning that title and many others as well! We can't wait to see you in Buyer & Cellar at the Curran Theatre here in San Francisco! And thank you for having a little fun with us in this interview!
Michael Urie: The pleasure was all mine!! Y'all are cute!
Nick: BWW fans - the show runs August 19 - August 31st and you can get tickets at www.shnsf.com. We want to see you there!