Buyer & Cellar

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 15, 2014

Michael Urie in 'Buyer & Cellar'
Michael Urie in 'Buyer & Cellar'  (Source:

Michael Urie proves to be a virtuoso clown, a consummate actor, and a force of nature, all rolled into one, in his tour de force solo turn in Jonathan Tolins' irresistible showbiz comedy, "Buyer & Cellar." Under the crackling direction of Stephen Brackett, Tolins' sassy and inventive concoction provides a career breakthrough vehicle for the perpetually charming Urie, who is most widely known for his sublime supporting role in the sitcom "Ugly Betty."

In its West Coast premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, the Off-Broadway hit shimmers with hilarity, scintillating showbiz dish, and a substantial helping of poignancy as it ponders the mythos of celebrity and the human face behind the public persona.

The special fizz in this smart and tasty cocktail derives from the electric aura of legendary superstar Barbra Streisand, ingeniously conjured in Tolins' delicious comic conceit. Though not exactly a roman-a-clef, the script deftly weaves true incidents and facts from the diva's life alongside plenty of creative license and fanciful musing, in service of scintillating satire.

Urie plays several distinct roles, including gender-bending moments as the famous Brooklyn-born dynamo herself. Tolins' script pulls off the paradoxical feat of roasting La Streisand quite hilariously, while simultaneously fashioning a love letter to her, and Urie expertly aids the playwright in that quest.

A basement level personal shopping mall Streisand built on her Malibu, California, estate and her best-selling coffee-table book, "My Passion for Design" provide the primary factual backdrop for the fanciful tale of an unemployed gay actor (Urie) who is enlisted to oversee these products of the wealthy diva's indulgent whims.

Urie wins us over from the start, when he at first appears more or less as himself, breaking the fourth wall to introduce us to the theatrical journey we are about to embark on. Eventually Urie introduces us to the key character he will play, Streisand's new employee, the cheeky and endearing Alex.

Tolins' script pulls off the paradoxical feat of roasting La Streisand quite hilariously, while simultaneously fashioning a love letter to her, and Urie expertly aids the playwright in that quest.

As the play progresses Urie also takes on the guises of Alex' lover Barry (far more of a Streisand groupie than Alex is); Streisand (suggested by Urie in a remarkably subtle blend of vocal inflections and gestures that can't quite be called an impersonation), the superstar's husband James Brolin, as well as Alex's agent and Streisand's personal assistant.

The play is certain to please Streisand's legion of devoted fans as well as her moderately ardent admirers, who might be converted to full-fledged fandom after viewing this. As conveyed here, her eccentricities and obsessions are endearing, her legendary frugality is hilarious, and her personal follies cause us to root for her to succeed despite the odds, a la Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

This is best exemplified by a delicious segment inspired by the real-life incidents surrounding her ongoing drive to play a 70-something Mama Rose in a "Gypsy" film remake. The segments in which Urie coaches her for this hoped career-crowning role are simultaneously uproarious and heartrending.

Urie is a master at seamlessly segueing from character to character in a heartbeat, while consistently costumed as our chief protagonist/storyteller Alex. He conveys the shifts with split-second changes in vocal quality and body language or posture. But even more importantly, Urie masterfully captures the swift and subtle shifts in tone, which ultimately bring the rollicking comedy to a heartrending and resonant conclusion.

Andrew Boyce's bare-bones set, aided by Alex Koch's superb video projections, and Eric Southern's lighting, support the fluidity of the classy production, while making scene transitions fully credible. Jessica Pabst's costumes and Stowe Nelson's sound design further add to the crisp ambience. A felicitous toast is due to Urie, Tolins, Brackett and the entire creative team. Happy days are here again, indeed!

"Buyer & Cellar" runs through Aug. 17 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., in L.A. For tickets or information, call 213-628-2772 or visit