Solo comedy ‘Buyer & Cellar’ creates fantasy image of Barbra Streisand & her private mall
Preview: Michael Urie stars as jobless actor hired by the diva to tend her posh collections in a New York hit that opens national tour May 10 at the Broadway Playhouse.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Actor Michael Urie has never seen Barbra Streisand’s personal mall built into the lower level of her home – no, seriously, a street of ornate shops filled with her collections of antiques, dolls, gowns, etc. – but he says that after his long-running one-man comedy “Buyer & Cellar,” in which he plays the mall’s imaginary minder, he either will receive a personal invitation or he will be banned.
Urie, who gave nearly 400 performances of “Buyer & Cellar” at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Barrow Street Theater in New York, now takes writer Jonathan Tolins’ wacky fantasy on a national tour that opens May 10 at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse. The run continues through June 15.
Fantasy it is, and remorselessly funny, says Urie. But, he urges several times in the course of an interview, “Buyer & Cellar” is neither spoof nor satire nor send-up of La Streisand and her zeal for collecting things – expensive, amazing things. Streisand, now 72, documented both her collector’s penchant and her private mall in a 2010 coffee table book, “My Passion for Design.”
“Jon’s description of the mall is accurate to the book,” says Urie. “We paint a real picture, even using stylish projections. But the audience has to let its imagination run. When I play her, it’s more like good story-telling than doing an impression. It’s not mockery.”
Urie portrays Alex Moore, a struggling actor in Los Angeles who takes a job working in the mall in Streisand’s Malibu basement. As there are no customers, it’s a lonely job – until one day the owner sweeps down for a chat, and something like bonding begins. Through Alex’s eyes, we get an up-close look at a woman of genuine charm and surprising complexity.
“Buyer & Cellar,” Urie says, is a comedy of what-ifs: “The mall is real, but what if Streisand hired someone to work in her mall, and what if she came down and shopped? The audience marries what they bring – their idea of who Barbra Streisand is — with what we bring. Put them together and we have this fantasy about the kind of woman who would put a mall in her basement.
“It’s what it might be like to spend time with Babs in her mall if she invited you. The guy who gets the job in the mall is not real, and the situations are totally fake. But the place and she are quite real, and the experiences she describes are based on Jon’s extensive research.
“It’s also a slightly philosophical examination of celebrity and isolation, a celebrity in very human light, behind the veil of a personal basement shopping mall. Beyond the limitless bank account, we have a real person. This is a quirky, happy Barbra. The play touches people. It allows them to relate to someone who seems unrelatable. She’s such an icon. At the end, people walk away liking her more, maybe even feeling sorry for her.”
Even after his many turns in the role in New York, Urie says it’s still a challenge going on stage each night for 100 minutes of nonstop talking. “I’m all alone, it’s very isolating and it’s relentless. But I have developed stamina. And I have a new co-star every night – another audience.”
- Performance location, dates and ticket info: Details at BroadwayinChicago.com
Tags: Barbra Steisand, Broadway in Chicago, Jonathan Tolins, Michael Urie