Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Transcendyently Evergreen: 'Buyer & Cellar' Finds Hilarity in Babs' Basement -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Buyer & Cellar
by Jonathan Tolins
starring Michael Urie
Broadway Playhouse, Chicago
Thru June 15

Buyer & Cellar, a one-man show written by Jonathan Tolins and starring Michael Urie--who originated it Off-Broadway and is now out on tour--has one of the most imaginative premises of any theatrical work I've ever seen.

Derived from the non-fictional oddity of Barbra Streisand having created a streetscape of shops to house her vast prized possessions underneath a barn on her Malibu estate--as featured and photographed by Harper's Bazaar in 2010--Buyer & Cellar is a (supposedly) made up story of a fledgling actor who is hired to man Babs' basement mall, despite it decidedly never being open to the public.

Urie, known but not to me for his role on TV's Ugly Betty, is outstanding as Alex More, who over 100 minutes beguiles the audience by recalling his interactions with Streisand--who occasionally comes down to "shop"--and his boyfriend Barry. 

I do not often laugh out loud, even in seeing the greatest of comedians, but Buyer & Celler--which is well-directed by Stephen Brackett--elicited several overt guffaws between Urie's mannerisms, his apt emulating (though not impersonating) of Streisand and much hilarity in Tolins' script, including numerous theatrical and cultural references. 

(As the show will run for several weeks at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, I think it best not to detail any specific jokes or commentary; best that you hear it all fresh.)

While I have high regard for Streisand's brilliant singing, impressive acting & directing career and seemingly some of her politics, I do not have the fascination or adoration that may make Buyer & Cellar even more blissful for the more deeply devoted.

In other words, while I laughed a lot, I never really got "verclempt."

And perhaps part of what prompts my @@@@ rating (rather than 5), and strong if not quite insistent recommendation, is this one-man show's misfortune of coming within a week of me seeing astonishing, large-scale productions of The Sound of Music and Les Miserables

Though Urie absolutely deserved his instant and emphatic standing ovation, and I can't cite anything substantive about how Buyer & Cellar could be any better, I just didn't love it on the same level as a truly outstanding musical, play, concert or even comedian, and can't deny I started looking at my watch about 30 minutes in. 

Interestingly, I was about to suggest that many who may not love grand musicals as I do might have a happier night at the theater with sly, intimate and irreverent (but also reverent) Buyer & Cellar. But it would seem grand musicals and Ms. Streisand are part & parcel. (And if you're oblivious to the musical Gypsy, I'd suggest studying up before heading to Water Tower Place.)

That said, I realize that many theater patrons do not have Broadway in Chicago subscriptions nor get to as much live entertainment as I do.

Rather, one may simply hear of a show and think, "That sounds like something I'd like."

Especially if that's the case with Buyer & Cellar--which is entirely a comedy monologue, not a musical--I can't imagine it will disappoint you. 

In addition to being tremendously funny, it is also rather poignant and touching.

Heck, it may even shine an astute spotlight on the way we were, back in the day when malls were commonplace within one's home.

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