Hello, gorgeous! After 268 performances of the Barbra Streisand sendup "Buyer & Cellar" off Broadway, Michael Urie has hit the road in the role of a lifetime.
In this quirky comedy, the quick-witted Urie plays the uber diva as well as out-of-work actor Alex, who lands a gig working as a clerk in a mall. The rub is this mall is in the bowels of La Streisand's Malibu estate, and only the Funny Girl shops there. Playwright Jonathan Tolins' wry comedy examines the nature of celebrity worship, fantasy and narcissism in a wacky, 100-minute solo show.
"It's far more than a funny little farce," says Greg MacKellan, artistic director of San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon troupe. "Streisand is presented, affectionately, as an ultimately sad person whose fatal flaw has been her great unease with the lack of privacy and personal isolation that can sometimes come with the kind of celebrity which she sought and pursued so fervently for so long."
The outrageous one-man laugh machine, a runaway hit in New York, makes its regional premiere Tuesday-Aug. 31 at San Francisco's Curran Theatre Indeed, it's hard to tell which part of the show is the most improbable: its plot or how popular the play has become.
"It started out as something you had to see if you love Barbra or if you hate Barbra, but now it's something that everyone seems to want to see," says Urie, who plays all the parts in this solo giggle fest. "Yes, it's about Barbra, but it's also the story of a 1 percenter stuck in a basement with a 99 percenter, and that resonates."
Fresh from getting fired from an embarrassing gig at Toontown, Alex is desperate to land a job. One of Babs' many minions hires him to man the row of quaint shops, including a doll shop, an antiques bazaar and a vintage fashion boutique, where Streisand's voluminous collection of stuff is lovingly displayed. Every so often, La Barbara herself descends into this faux Main Street to "shop" for things she already owns while waited upon by an appropriately slavish sales clerk (enter our boy Alex). It turns out be a whole new level of humiliating.
Welcome to a diamond-crusted wonderland tucked into the basement of a big red barn. Some seriously odd role-playing ensues. Imagine Genet's "The Maids" meets TMZ. Lest that sound rather improbable, rest assured the plot is steeped in truth.
"Oh, everyone thinks it must be made up, except it's not; it's all true, totally true," says Urie. "There's a whole book about it."
For the record, the play is indeed based on Streisand's lavishly illustrated 295-page coffee table tome "My Passion for Design," which details the decor of her own personal shopping mall. But there is far more to this show than mere mockumentary. Urie's irresistible charisma is key to the show's charm.
"Urie is an eighth wonder of the world in this role, and that's not hyperbole," says MacKellan. "He does Streisand without 'doing' Streisand, making her real without impersonating her. He's very touching, too, because the script requires that of him as well as the comedy, and he meets it just as adeptly as he mines every last laugh."
Certainly the actor has a devilish wit, and he's so sincerely nice the digs at Babs never feel mean. "It's so much more than parody or mimicry; it's also thought-provoking and silly and sweet," says the actor, whose nasally Brooklyn Streisand accent is beyond pitch-perfect. "It's about the nature of celebrity and the lust for fame."
This is the trivial raised to the level of the sublimely silly. As the New York Times hailed: "The play could be called inconsequential, ultimately amounting to little more than the anti-aspirational message that who we are is more important than what we acquire. But as a reflection on all of us 'struggling to make a perfect little world to fit our life into,' it's a seriously funny and remarkably sustained slice of absurdist whimsy on which both Barbra lovers and haters will be sold."
"Barbra is fascinating because she is so private but also so public," says Urie, who studied the icon thoroughly for the part. "She is very reserved, and she doesn't show who she is in interviews or concerts, but then she writes a whole book about her house."
Urie's favorite moment of the show is the first time we see La Babs head down to the basement to go shopping and haggle over price with the star-struck Alex. The bargainista and her clerk end up bonding over fashion and frozen yogurt, for a time. Until the satire hits the fan.
"She's not an unreasonable person, she just lives in this particular little fantasy world," says Urie. "I must say I don't envy that kind of money and fame. Most interactions she has are not real. Imagine growing up in poverty and then having the kind of crazy, endless money that means you're wildest imagining can come true."
Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772.
By Jonathan Tolins,
performed by Michael Urie
When: Aug. 19-31
Where: Curran Theatre,
445 Geary St., San Francisco