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'Ugly Betty' star uproarious in Streisand send-up at D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre

Michael Urie plays all the many characters in 'Buyer & Cellar', Jonathan Tolins' send-up of Streisand's basement mall. It's a yuk a minute at D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Co.
Michael Urie plays all the many characters in 'Buyer & Cellar', Jonathan Tolins' send-up of Streisand's basement mall. It's a yuk a minute at D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Co.
Michael Urie is divine in 'Buyer & Cellar' by Jonathan Tolins. Photo by Joan Marcus.

'Buyer & Cellar'

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People, people who see "Ugly Betty" star Michael Urie in "Buyer & Cellar", are the luckiest people in the city.

'Ugly Betty' star Michael Urie is uproarious in Streisand send-up at D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre
Michael Urie in 'Buyer & Cellar'. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The wry, sly one-man show by ever-clever Jonathan Tolins opened June 20 for a nine-day D.C. run at Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Hall. You don't have to be gay to go ga-ga over it.

In "Buyer & Cellar", Urie outdoes his "Ugly Betty" role as Marc St. James by playing numerous roles interchangeably, seamlessly, and hysterically, including La Barbra.

Mainly, Urie's an underemployed actor, Alex More, who works underground in the cellar of Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate, where she's created a shopping mall.

"This is real!" Read all about it in Barbra Streisand's book "My Passion for Design", toted adoringly onstage by Urie as More, while "The Way We Were/Memories light the corners of my mind" tootles softly offstage.

"This is some serious s---," More proclaims. "Barbra has a lot of stuff. She doesn't like run-of-the-mill stuff -- but she does run a mill." And a mall.

"It's like Winterthur, some decorative arts museum in Delaware -- who knew?" (Who knew Urie is Juilliard-trained, and even won its John Houseman Prize before winning many other awards.)

Urie/More says at the get-go, "I don't do her; I'll just be her." Well...

He "does" Babs somewhat like a hunchback, less of Notre Dame than of Igor in "Young Frankenstein". Urie further overdoes her by miming, time and again, tossing back Streisand's strands. But for a Texan, he sure gits her Brooklyn accent, intoning it in a low, deep, and of course resonant voice.

At times, the play's evocative of "Sunset Boulevard" -- if Gloria Swanson and William Holden were gay.

It's also reminiscent of "Ugly Betty". Streisand, a megastar for more than a half-century, had been regarded as ugly Barb(a)ra before, and long after she deleted the third "a" from her name.

Her stepfather used to tell her she couldn't have ice cream because she was ugly. Now she has her own frozen yogurt machine in her mall's "Gift Shoppe".

"At what point in her life does she say, for a meeskite (Yiddish for ugly), she's done okay?" posits Alex's lover, Barry.

Poignancy deepens and heightens Tolins' comedy.

The funny guy is funniest when skewering Streisand's self-sycophantism. No spoilers here, only a few clues:

Amid the guffaws there were audible gasps at one reference in this show aimed especially for gays and Jews. An albeit very clever word combo involved Auschwitz, where at least 960,000 Jews and thousands of homosexuals were killed by the Nazis.

But any "Guilt Trip" would be absolutely "Nuts". On a far more positive note:

Hooray for gender equality -- "If she were a man, I'd call her a perfectionist."

Tolins' play, and Urie's stunning although often campy (it's Streisand, stupid) performance, is near perfection.

See it before this parade passes by.

For more info and tickets: "Buyer & Cellar", Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849. Through June 29. Then, the show must go on to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto... "My Passion for Design" (Viking, 2010), written and photographed by Barbra Streisand. "Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand" (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) by William Mann.