What is truth and what is conjecture is delineated right upfront in Jonathan Tolins' hilarious 2013 one-man comedy "Buyer & Cellar," now on tour at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place with its original off-Broadway star, the extremely affable Michael Urie of TV's "Ugly Betty." And no doubt this fact-fiction divide is jokingly and immediately stressed to help ward off potential lawsuits.
So here's what is fact: The multitalented and award-winning star Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl," "Yentl") has had a personal shopping mall constructed in a basement of her home in Malibu, Calif., to display many of her possessions. It's all very well-documented in Streisand's own glossy 2010 coffee table book "My Passion for Design," which is referenced throughout Tolins' show.
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"Buyer & Cellar"★ ★ ★ ½
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 through June 15
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes without intermission
Parking: Nearby parking garages
Rating: Some profanity and sexual references; for teens and older
And here's the fiction: Tolins' deliciously dishy imagining of what it might be like for an out-of-work gay actor named Alex More (Urie) to suddenly find himself employed and face to face with an iconic celebrity in that selfsame faux shopping mall.
Clearly, Tolins is a huge Streisand fan. His obsessive devotion and relentless ribbing of the notoriously perfectionist star teem throughout "Buyer & Cellar." Many details and trivia of Streisand's life and career are infused throughout Tolins' fantastical premise, analytically applied with awe and sometimes tinged with sarcasm.
Bringing all this material to amazing life is the very versatile performance of Urie, who keeps the audience gripped in the palm of his hand. In addition to Alex, Urie amusingly assumes several other characters including Alex's Streisand-obsessed Jewish boyfriend Barry, Streisand's manly actor-husband James Brolin and the Brooklyn-born star herself who comes to confuse Alex about their shifting roles as employer and employee to potential mentors and friends.
"Buyer & Cellar" contains a high percentage of laughs per minute, often at the expense of Streisand's determination and of Alex, who yearns to carve out a niche among the Hollywood elite. But the show also poses some serious questions about growing inequities in wealth, the general public's potentially unhealthy appetite to gorge on gossip about stars and the dangers of pop psychology applied to famous people we only think we know.
"Buyer & Cellar" director Stephen Brackett moves things briskly along, working well with Urie throughout to delineate the show's many characters and moods. These shifts are also greatly emphasized by the color-coded projections of designer Alex Koch splayed across the simple white set by designer Andrew Boyce. (Note how a golden peachy glow appears whenever Streisand enters a room,)
You don't have to be a die-hard Streisand fan to fully appreciate the comic triumph that is "Buyer & Cellar." But such knowledge will undoubtedly give you a leg up on all of Tolins' smartly catty commentary on the strange truth and the fabulous fiction.