“Mem’ries” may light the corners of Broadway/TV star Jai Rodriguez’s mind, but they are neither “misty” nor “water-colored” in Jonathan Tolins’ deliciously dishy Buyer & Cellar, a revelatory showcase for Queer Eye “Culture Vulture” Rodriguez under Dimitri Toscas’ truly inspired direction.
Rodriguez stars as struggling actor Alex Moore (Rodriguez), and the heavenly boss-from-hell he’s on stage “rememb’ring” at Toluca Lake’s Falcon Theatre is none other than a certain Barbra, no family name required.
Taking as his inspiration Babs’ self-penned coffee-table tome My Passion For Design, playwright Tolins has confectioned that rarity, a multi-character play that just happens to brought to life by a single actor, and is (as Alex assures us) “a work of fiction [that] could not possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented, and litigious as Barbra Streisand.”
Notwithstanding, Buyer & Cellar feels absolutely real, and once Alex has met the woman whose basement shopping-mall-for-one he has been hired to man, there’s not an audience member who won’t feel as if he or she has been given a personal audience with Her Majesty Queen Barbra herself.
L.A. theatergoers will chuckle at the dire professional circumstances that have sent Alex day-job-hunting (all he could book was a 99-seat show at the Zephyr), and though boyfriend Barry is supportive, love cannot pay the bills.
Fortunately, a friendly tip from onetime Disneyland hookup Vincent secures Alex an interview with Streisand house manager Sharon, the result of which is a journey into “another world, like when Dorothy steps from sepia into Technicolor” and a job “doing inventory, working the floor, greeting the customer.” (Note the deliberate use of the singular.)
Confidentiality agreement signed, Alex takes charge of Barbra’s Doll Shop, Antiques Store, Antique Clothes Boutique, and Gift Shoppe until, at last, he finds his patience rewarded by a visit from the lady upstairs, and before you know it, our hero finds himself Bonding With Barbra as only a gay man can.
Still, as anyone who’s ever met Diana, Patti, Cher, or the icon in question can tell you, hell hath no fury like a diva scorned, and Alex must navigate his surroundings (and a late-night encounter with Mr. Streisand) with utmost care.
Even those who’ve seen Queer Eye’s Rodriguez in stage roles as varied as Rent’s Angel or In The Heights’ Usnavi (or in his multiple episodic TV guest spots) will marvel at his skill at bringing to life six very different characters, each of them given distinctive body language and voice.
Just as original star Michael Urie made Alex an extension of himself, so too does Mr. Rodriguez, and winningly so, surrounding his popular TV persona with one colorful supporting character after another.
Rodriguez may not “do” Barbra (Alex declares that “enough people do her—even some women—that you don’t need me to…”) but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel she’s right there in the room.
In fact, you may well leave the theater almost swearing you’ve seen six actors onstage, and that includes macho Brooklynite Barry, acerbic Sharon, goosey-gay Vincent, and gravel-voiced James. (Brolin that is.)
Director Toscas doesn’t just have Rodriguez moving about the Falcon stage with imagination and flair (the dancing with Barbra sequence is a stroke of genius, thanks in large part to properties designer John M. McElveney), together Toscas and scenic/projection designer Adam Flemming elevate this Buyer & Cellar to a whole new level, Flemming’s set revealing multiple hidden wonders (one of them in tandem with lighting designer Nick McCord that took me breathtakingly by surprise), his projections adding a cinematic flair throughout.
Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound design offers not only some delightful effects but bits of sonic Streisand memorabilia along the way. Costume designer David Kay Mickelsen adds nifty character accessories to Alex’s stylish wear.
One-person productions are generally not this reviewer’s cup of tea, and in fact I’ve only seen one other in the past fourteen months, but the exceptional Buyer & Cellar is a solo show I’d gladly see again and again. With Jai Rodriguez as our guide to Barbra’s cellar, tickets to the Falcon are more than worth a buy.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
October 19, 2106
Photos: Sasha Venola