“Buyer & Cellar,” an off-Broadway hit now appropriately onstage in San Francisco at the Curran Theatre, tells the unlikely tale of repeated encounters with Barbra Streisand in the basement of her home in Malibu, which she has turned into a shopping mall for one customer — herself.
The storyteller is a young gay actor who has been hired to tend the stores.
Yes, it’s crazy, and, yes, it’s hilarious (although folks who don’t know that her first name has two A’s, not three, may not find it their cup of tea).
It’s also a one-man affair, with all the parts portrayed with glee and sensitivity by Michael Urie, of TV’s “Ugly Betty” fame.
Urie plays five main characters: the actor-narrator Alex; Streisand; Streisand’s employee Sharon, who hires Alex to be the salesman (he has to sign a confidentiality agreement and is told to “greet the customer and just act normally”); Alex’s smart and sassy boyfriend Barry, whose responses to Alex’s job are riotous and cynical tirades; and even James Brolin.
Directed by Stephen Brackett, Urie is convincing in all the roles and his Streisand — who walks with a slightly hunched posture, has sucked-in cheeks and claps giddily — is a sweet and delightful interpretation, not an impression.
At the outset, Urie sets up the delicious premise, warning patrons that the show — while based on some real things, such as Streisand’s lavish $60 coffee table book “My Passion for Design” and the fact that she indeed has storelike rooms in her cellar — is pure fiction.
It was dreamed up by Jonathan Tolins, whose wild and imaginative script boasts plentiful Babs trivia and jokes that are spot-on, but never mean. Packed with nonstop laughs — a scene in which Barbra and Alex intensely bargain over a French doll that blows bubbles is to die for — it’s not without substance, either.
When Alex revels in the superstar’s invitation to call her Sadie, and the notion that she created her own perfect little world and invited him into it, the show brings up real issues concerning humans’ obsession with celebrity and need for intimacy.
The two share some touching moments, like when Barbra finds out that Alex is gay: “There are so many of you!” she says, to which he responds, “We have good taste.”
That funny, warm and thoughtful sentiment fuels this show, which even prompted one amused and satisfied opening-night theatergoer to go home, log onto Amazon.com and purchase a copy of Babs’ “Passion for Design” — for $11.98.
Buyer & Cellar
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $50 to $100
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com