Posts Tagged ‘barbra streisand’

Buyer & Cellar
by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Wendy Dann
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Studio
March 18, 2015

Jeremy Webb Photo by Jerry Naunheim, jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jeremy Webb
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Apparently, Barbra Streisand’s basement isn’t just a basement. It’s a shopping mall. She even wrote a whole book about it, called My Passion For Design. That much is true. The rest of the story, as presented in playwright Jonathan Tolins’s one-man play Buyer & Cellar, is a hilarious, frantic fantasy.  Currently being presented at the Rep’s Studio, this unforgettable production is a brilliant showcase for its star, actor Jeremy Webb. It’s also surprisingly successful at being both a celebration and a critique of Streisand herself, with no dull moments in its roughly 90 minute running time.

After a short, comical disclaimer in which Webb, as himself, explains that the story we are about to see is fictional and he’s not exactly going to be doing a Streisand impression, the story gets going, and what a story it is! It tells the tale of Alex More, an out of work actor who has just been fired from Disneyland after a somewhat questionable incident in Toon Town. While looking for a new gig, he’s told of an unusual job at a palatial estate in Malibu, which he eventually finds out is owned by Barbra Streisand. The job is to serve as the sole employee of her elaborate basement mall, maintaining the merchandise and being there to cater to its sole customer, Streisand herself, whenever she deigns to make an appearance. Eventually, of course, she does, and an unlikely relationship develops between the young, initially somewhat clueless actor and the vain but charming Streisand. Through the course of the story, Webb plays a few other characters as well, including Streisand’s husband James Brolin, her somewhat haughty assistant Sharon–who is the one who hires Alex–and Alex’s movie buff boyfriend Barry, who knows a lot more about Streisand than Alex does at first, but then grows jealous of the gradually increasing bond between Alex and the superstar.

The story explores a lot of issues, from the nature of celebrity to Streisand’s status as a gay cultural icon, to celebrity hero-worship and indulgence, to the difference between authenticity and artificiality. It’s all done in a seemingly free-flowing way that ultimately follows a fairly well-structured arc. Set on a fairly neutral but vaguely 60’s-influenced backdrop designed by Steve Teneyck, who also designed the striking lighting, the centerpiece of this production is the dynamic performance of its sole actor. Webb is full of energy as he jumps, hops, skips, runs and near-flies from role to role. His Alex is a charismatic bundle of energy and charm, and he accomplishes the amazing feat of building a realistic relationship twice over, as represented in his portrayals of Streisand and of Alex’s boyfriend Barry.  Webb’s Streisand is, as he had announced, not an imitation but rather a re-imagining that brings to mind Martin Short more than Babs herself. It works surprisingly well, because the audience is able to get past the distraction of judging the authenticity of an impersonation, instead being enabled to actually view Streisand as a character in the story rather than merely an impression.  With Barry, Webb portrays a cynical fan who also clearly loves Alex, and he manages to achieve the strange feat of actually displaying romantic chemistry between two characters both played by himself. Webb is a marvel of controlled hyperactivity and surprising sympathy in the same performance. It’s a wonder to behold, as well as uproariously funny.

This is one of the most bizarre plays I’ve seen, and it’s a joy.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I walked into the Rep Studio the evening I saw this, and what I got was a pure treat.  It’s a performance that is full of wit, style and substance, and it’s never, ever boring.  Even if, like Alex at first, you don’t know a whole lot about Barbra Streisand, this is worth seeing. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll probably laugh even more.  It’s a must-see, and must-laugh, production.

Jeremy Webb Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jeremy Webb
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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