On Stage: One-Stop Shop

REVIEW: ‘Buyer & Cellar’ takes an affectionate, satirical look at Barbra Streisand’s quirks.

Michael Urie in 'Buyer & Cellar' (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Michael Urie in ‘Buyer & Cellar’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Buyer & Cellar,” now in a brief run at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, is based on the unbelievable idea that superstar Barbra Streisand has a shopping mall in the cellar of one of the buildings on her grand Malibu compound. It may sound unbelievable, but it is true — a fact that she revealed in a book she published titled: “My Passion for Design.”

A person of her impressive talent and wealth is entitled to spend her money in any way she wants, even if that means creating a personal shopping center with no customers. It was that information that inspired playwright Jonathan Tolins to create the clever, funny “Buyer & Cellar.” In his enticing satire, Alex More, an unemployed actor who has recently been fired from Disneyland, applies for and is hired to be a clerk to work in Streisand’s basement street of shops that includes a doll store, a sweet shop and a dress shop with costumes Streisand wore in her movies.

It is probably fortunate that Streisand reportedly has never seen the show, which has been an off-Broadway hit and is now on a national tour. Streisand probably would not be amused by “Buyer & Cellar,” and that’s too bad, because it isn’t mean, although it does poke fun at the reclusive, demanding star. Actually, it is quite affectionate.

What makes “Buyer & Cellar” such an effective fantasy is Michael Urie (Alex), whose solo performance in the 90-minute production soars with a delightful, charming effervescence. He performs on a small pristine stage on Harman’s much larger stage, suggesting the lonely confining space of the very private shopping mall where there is only one customer who doesn’t show up very often.

When she does show up in the doll shop, she asks Alex the price for one of the dolls, which she already owns. Taken aback, Alex thinks quickly and comes up with an $850 figure and haggles with Streisand over the price. As he tells the story, she was impressed and amused, and Alex develops affection for her. Under Stephen Brackett’s controlled direction, you feel as though you are watching and listening to a young, lovable friend exuberantly telling you about his exciting experience working for the widely admired, talented and reclusive singer. He can’t help being thrilled that he actually talks to her from time to time.

“Buyer & Cellar” is the kind of show that will tempt theater groups all across the country to stage. Urie, who has performed the show for more than 400 performances is so perfect for the role that it is hard to imagine anyone else who can project his perfectly naïve, lovable enthusiasm. It’s too bad that Streisand may never see it since it is possible even she might be charmed by Urie’s performance.

Buyer & Cellar” continues through June 29, 2014 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. Tickets are $25-$75 and available at 202-547-1122 and online here.

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