Schmoozing with Michael Urie About ‘Buyer & Cellar’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company

DCMetroTheaterArts’ John Stoltenberg couldn’t have said it any better in his review of Buyer & Cellar: “The laughs come so fast in Buyer & Cellar—and Michael Urie’s solo performance is so brilliantly engaging—that the words “funny” and “fun” seem too puny, utterly inadequate to convey the extraordinary experience.”

Well, there were a lot of laughs when I spoke with Michael Urie from Chicago (where he was appearing in the show) about Buyer and Cellar and his visit to Shakespeare Theatre Company for a short run that ends this Sunday.

Michael Urie in 'Buyer & Cellar.' Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Michael Urie in ‘Buyer & Cellar.’ Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Joel: It’s great having you back in DC and this time with your hilarious show Buyer and Cellar, which I saw twice in NYC and laughed myself silly. What have you heard about DC audiences and their love for Barbra Streisand?

Michael: I haven’t heard much about their love for Barbra but I had the most wonderful experience when I performed Romeo and Juliet in 2005 at The Folger. Not only because it was a really great production-I played Mercutio and Graham Hamilton played Romeo, and it was directed by PJ Paparelli -but because we were trying to do a Romeo and Juliet in a modern style. The audience were great-they were eager, they laughed and I got laughs, and they were listening and got the intricacies, so when the play started shaping up and when Michael Kahn came to see it he said, “If you take the show around, bring it to the Shakespeare and we will present it.” So I thought that this was a great idea because the audiences are really smart and they do listen, and I was in NYC so long, and now I am in Chicago, and the audiences get it -they do here in Chicago, and they do in New York, and they do in DC. There is something about the audiences in DC because they listen and that will be great for this play.

What store is missing in Barbra’s basement and why do you think she needs this store?

I think that no mall is complete without a Radio Shack. She has a dress shop and an antique store, a gift shop and doll shop and she really does cover the gamut. I am not a big shopper but she does have the Fro Yo and the popcorn in the sweets shop and doll shop.

How is Alex like you and so unlike you?

Alex is a struggling actor in Los Angeles and I lived in Los Angeles only when I had a job.  I always choose to be in NYC for my struggles. You can’t go very far in NYC without seeing someone struggling more than you. And it’s the same in LA but they are in their cars and you really can’t tell. In NYC, if you can ‘struggle it out’, NYC will eventually take care of you, and at least you will be able to fit in. But that’s not the question is it?

I do understand Alex’s struggle and it’s never easy and I didn’t get fired from Disneyland and work in Barbra’s basement mall. And I have to keep pounding the pavement to keep finding work, and like Alex – I was not a big Barbra fan. I always liked Barbra and I knew more than I thought I did. And Alex has a lot of respect and enjoyment of Barbra -and he doesn’t have standards which he holds her to. Another thing I think we have in common is right away he has to play a game with her and putting her at ease. And that’s something I can do too. I have been lucky to have met a lot of famous people and I always feel comfortable around them. Famous people end up talking to way more people than normal people talk to. Think about all the conversations we have had and multiply it and then think about all the conversations they have with strangers that are awkward and then multiply that – and that’s a part of what Buyer and Cellar is about. And I have that similar skill. I have been around enough that I am able to ‘hang.’

What have you learned about Barbra that has given you more respect for her?

I always knew she was a good singer but I have gained respect for her acting. I went to ‘the concert’ with my mother – that was my biggest Barbra memory watching that with my mother. And when I was trying to figure out how I was going to play Barbra Streisand-what I was surprised of-was how much her acting moved me. I knew I liked Funny Girl and I loved What’s Up Doc? and Hello, Dolly! but I just didn’t know how good she was until I went back and looked at her acting. I knew seeing her in concert was nice – and that was more about the music – and some witty banter-and in her early and more recent movies (not so much the middle) – like Meet the Fockers and The Guilt Trip – she was hilarious! And it’s this sense of play that I needed to play her.

How did you first get involved in the NYC production?

Jonathan Tolins is a friend of mine and he wrote it with Jesse Tyler Ferguson in mind. And it got written and he was so busy with Modern Family and he just wasn’t able to commit. And Jonathan said to him, “If you can’t commit (in a certain amount of time) can you give me your blessing to shop it around to other theatres with another actor?” And Jesse did and that was me. And working with Jon on this play and another one of his – and being in the right place at the right time-and that’s how it all works out usually. It just worked out perfectly. It was great timing.

Chris Hanke went in for you in NYC and now Barrett Foa is performing the role.

Chris did it for 10 weeks and now it’s Barrett’s for 10 weeks.

How different were their performances than yours?

I haven’t seen Barrett but I did see Christopher and he was great! He is a great actor and one of the greatest guys and it was a ball sharing a dressing room. I liked his performance because we are very different. Christopher attacked it as more of a wonderful tale – a fairy tale – and mine is more like telling a secret.

Michael Urie in ‘Buyer & Cellar.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.
Michael Urie in ‘Buyer & Cellar.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

How did they convince you to go on the road with this show?

Before doing TV and being single I loved to travel and I loved going to new cities and doing a new play. When you get to do a new play on the road it’s very magical and you get to meet new people. It’s a great part for me and a good showcase for me and for theatre towns around the country that new me and towns I want to know me. What better showcase may I ever have and when will I ever have a better opportunity to tour again?

Will politicians (especially Republicans) like this show?

Let me tell you-it’s about celebrities and Show Biz – there’s the gay thing and the Jewish thing – but the one thing that is going on in the show is the class system. We have an icon millionaire with a mall in her basement juxtaposed with a struggling actor who drives a beat-up used car after being fired from Disneyland. In any town where there is a class system – this play will work really, really well. Chicago is getting that-LA will get that- and DC will definitely get that. I think Washington, DC is ripe with that!

Joel: Amen!

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.


Buyer & Cellar plays through June 29, 2014 at Sidney Harman Hall, at Shakespeare Theatre Company-610 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 547-1122. or purchase them online.

John Stoltenberg’s review of Buyer and Celler on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Read other rave reviews of Buyer and Celler in ‘Other Reviews’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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