How far will a starry-eyed Barbra Streisand fan go to get close to the beloved icon? Jonathan Tolins imagines a hilarious scenario in his hit Off Broadway comedy, “Buyer & Cellar,” coming to Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables this weekend.
The play chronicles the hilarious experiences of Alex More, a struggling gay actor who lands a job working in the shopping mall Streisand built in the basement of her Malibu compound. After weeks of minding the store, the “Lady Herself” comes downstairs to shop. But, eventually Alex begins to wonder if the bond he feels in the basement will ever make it upstairs.
Actor’s Playhouse artistic director David Arisco had been eyeing the show for more than a year. Actor Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty”) originated the role of Alex and took the play to New York, Los Angeles and London before the rights became available.
“I had to keep an eye on its journey,” explained Arisco. “The question was whether it would be released to regionals. There were other theaters in South Florida that were trying to get it at the same time.”
The intimate show offers a stark contrast to the big musicals Arisco typically programs, such as “West Side Story,” “Ragtime,” “Miss Saigon” and “1776.”
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“I’m always looking to create as eclectic a season as I can. I felt we didn’t have a lighthearted comedy,” he said.
After snagging the rights, Arisco’s biggest challenge would be finding an actor who could handle the challenge: “This character has to be charming with a capital C,” in addition to playing more than a half-dozen roles including Alex, boyfriend Barry, James Brolin, Steisand’s house manager and, ultimately, Babs herself.
That actor would be Carbonell Award-winner Chris Crawford, a Carbonell winner last year for “Murder Ballad” at Actor’s Playhouse.
“First and foremost, it’s a challenge. As an actor, you dream of doing a one-man or one-woman show. It’s all me for 40-something pages. This script, in particular, has so much heart. We’re all struggling with something and looking for more in our lives, just like Alex,” Crawford said.
As a gay man, Crawford particularly relates to his character. He noted a line in the show when Alex first catches a glimpse of Streisand’s “People” dress and “has a moment.” Crawford grew up watching Barbra Streisand concerts on VHS video tapes, but finally had his own moment rehearsing this show.
“She had never been the icon to me until I did this show and now I’m obsessed. She’s such a fascinating person. I’m very much like Alex in that way. I’ve always respected that she’s a part of gay culture, but now I get it.”
Arisco already knows both gay and straight audiences will flock to the show: “It is a gay man who is telling a gay man’s dream story, but the charm of the character opens the door for the straight community, as well. The jokes won’t be lost on them.”
See the Florida regional premiere of Jonathan Tolins’ comedy, “Buyer & Cellar,” July 13 – Aug. 7 at Actor’s Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Tickets are $45 – 53 at ActorsPlayhouse.org.