For the past year, Michael Urie has had to field a constant stream of questions about Barbra Streisand. That's because Urie is the star of Jonathan Tolins' critically acclaimed 2013 off-Broadway comedy "Buyer & Cellar," a one-man show that imagines what it might be like to work in the well-documented faux mall in the basement of Streisand's Malibu home.
"It's such a weird thing, because it's not a real story, but with real facts about her and her home," said Urie, who is launching a national tour of "Buyer & Cellar" from Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place starting Tuesday, May 6.
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"Buyer & Cellar"Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Performance times vary, but largely 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; runs May 6 to June 15
"It's not a roast, and it's also not a lampoon. It's just a play where one of the characters happens to be someone we've all heard of and we all know. And while there are certainly jokes at (Streisand's) expense, they're loving jokes and they're smart jokes. It's not mean-spirited."
Urie has returned to his theater roots in a big way, following his most recognizable stint as the scheming personal assistant Marc St. James on ABC's "Ugly Betty" from 2006-2010. Urie has played an assortment of dramatic and comic roles ranging from Prior Walter in an acclaimed 2010 off-Broadway production of Tony Kushner's epic drama "Angels in America," to a bumbling replacement Bud Frump in 2012 for the most recent Broadway musical revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
"It was all I wanted to do," said Urie, referring to a theater career following his acting training at New York's esteemed Juilliard School. "But getting into television really helped to build my credibility and at least help me get on the map."
In "Buyer & Cellar," Urie not only plays a struggling out-of-work actor named Alex More who gets the job, but other people like James Brolin and Streisand herself.
"I change my voice a little bit, I change my physicality a bit, but it's really more of a representation than an impression," Urie said. "The genius of the play is that it incites the audience's imagination to fill in the gaps. We're given basically a neutral setting of a white box and I'm just a guy and we throw all this information and all these funny ideas and jokes at the audience."
What also makes this tour of "Buyer & Cellar" so special is that Urie, the show's originator, is continuing in the role. It's rare nowadays for stars to tour with their New York successes.
"I wanted to. I love this play, I love doing it and I wanted to play the major cities with me in it," said Urie, adding that he's never played Chicago before. "I'm really excited because I wanted to learn about Chicago and find a great excuse to spend a lot of time here."
And as of yet, Urie says that Streisand hasn't seen "Buyer & Cellar," and it probably would be best that she doesn't.
"I wouldn't want to know, and I wouldn't want the audience to know," Urie said about the improbable notion that Streisand would see "Buyer & Cellar" in person. "If she ever does see it, I think it should be a tape of it -- she could go to the Lincoln Center Library Archive. It would be too weird for her."