For Barbra Streisand fans who revel in misty water-colored memories, the one-man comedy “Buyer and Cellar” will light the corners of your mind. Most of all, it’s the laughter I’ll remember in The Rep’s intimate Studio opening night, as we glimpsed the superstar’s opulent yet unreal world.
Playwright Jonathan Tolins’ erudite discourse on celebrity culture gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective, albeit a fictional one, into Babs’ very guarded lifestyle. To fully appreciate the dishy gossip, acerbic wit and clever dissection of La Streisand’s’ career oeuvre, you must be aware of her music and movies — at least some of the hits.
A nimble Jeremy Webb is engaging as Alex Moore, an under-employed actor hired for a very odd job. Desperate for income, he treks to the Oscar-Emmy-Grammy-Tony winner’s stunning sanctuary in Malibu, and his nonchalant attitude dissipates, star-struck once surrounded by her favorite things. Warm and exuberant, Webb masterfully turns this challenging, intricate role into a fun romp.
Stationed in a basement replica mall, which houses the singer-actress’s massive collection of mementos and possessions, Alex becomes an apron-wearing “Mr. Hooper” in an artificial, solitary environment. After a pleasant encounter with his enigmatic employer, he then becomes somewhat of a confidante and sounding board to one of our biggest entertainment legends.
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Webb tells the audience straight up that he doesn’t do impressions, that he is no drag queen, but he actually is quite convincing portraying four other distinct characters. Through the fast-paced 90-minute tell-all, he imitated the vocal cadences of the imperious head of the household staff, the Lady of the House, and her husband James Brolin, as well as his snarky boyfriend Barry.
The appealing Webb effectively created an indelible Streisand, softer, with a hint of the Brooklyn accent and her flamboyant personality affectations intact, switching from sympathetic to haughty in a jiffy.
Wendy Dann gracefully directed this breezy showbiz confection, which elevates conspicuous consumption as an art form, but does not skirt the distasteful trappings of fame. The technical aspects are sharp, particularly a limber lighting design by Steve Teneyck, who also fashioned the sleek scenic design. Rusty Wandall wrote a wistful original music score in addition to crafting a superb sound design.
This very funny work was inspired by Streisand’s coffee table book, “My Passion for Design,” published in 2010, which features many beautiful photos of her New England farmhouse spread. While she mentioned that a street of shops caught her fancy as a unique means to store items, we don’t know if she followed through. Yet, the playwright’s vivid what-if scenario successfully colors Barbra for us. Webb, as the purveyor of such extravagance, fills in many blanks.
We show-tune lovin’ drama queens want to believe it really happened, but even without verification, this play is audacious, name-drops in a delectable way, and we shriek in recognition.
Winner of a 2013 Drama Desk Award, the show was also named Best Unique Theatrical Experience by the Off-Broadway Alliance. It’s a fantasy, not unlike La-La Land’s dream machine, that we can get lost in quite easily. “Buyer and Cellar” is a delectable hybrid of People magazine, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and an Imaginary Housewife of Los Angeles. as told by your hilarious gay friend.