I have a confession. I'm not a huge Barbra Streisand fan. Sure, I admire early Barbra -- like sitting on stool in a plaid shirt and belting out duets with Judy Garland Barbra Streisand. I even enjoyed her Dolly Levi. But everything circa 1970 and beyond I find her exhaustingly self-conscious.
So it was with some trepidation that I attended Buyer and Cellar, the hit off-Broadway play by Jonathan Tolins now making a month-long stop at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse which tells the (entirely fictional) story of a struggling actor, Alex More (Michael Urie -- read my interview with him here), who takes on the oddest of odd jobs by working in Barbra Streisand's basement mall (which is actually a real thing that exists in Ms. Streisand's Malibu home). In doing so, he encounters the star and a friendship of the unlikeliest kinds ensues.
On paper, this seems like such a niche subject for a very specific audience of Babs worshipers. Would we be subjected to a second-rate Streisand interpretation all night bookended by rabid fangirling?
But five minutes into the play, I was hooked, and the 90 minute one-act flew by quicker than any night I've spent in a theatre in recent memory. Part of it is Tolins' accessible and engaging script, which includes enough insider-y information to tickle Babs fans. But a great deal of it is Urie's delivery, which is a masterclass in pacing, timing and comedic delivery. In fact, Urie's character admits that he's missing the "Streisand gene," which makes him a refreshingly level-headed narrator when he eventually meets the iconic performer. Ah, yes -- he is starstruck, but not to the point that it overrides the story. More importantly, he wants to impress this tough customer of one, and he begins to get wrapped up into the odd world this Funny Girl has carefully cultivated. And, by proxy, we're pulled in as well.
Like any good story, you're never quite sure what's headed -- and the final turn is both hilariously shocking and perfectly plausible. I completely bought into this Buyer and Cellar.
"Buyer and Cellar" plays through June 15 at the Broadway Playhouse. More information here.