Jonathan Tolins' “Buyer and Cellar,” now at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, requires an actor of a very particular caliber. John Tartaglia, perhaps best known for his work in “Avenue Q,” blows us away with his art and craft and there’s plenty of w(h)ine to go around. David Saint’s expert direction and Tartaglia’s innate sparkle and gravitas, in delicate balance, create a world that is all too believable, though it is nominally a fictional tale based on facts available to any of us on the Internet. Tolins only met Barbra Streisand one time, but he packed a lot of observation into those few moments.
What if a world famous diva took a page out of the book—literally—of one of the most famous decorative arts museums in the country and organized her ephemera in a shopping mall in the basement of her custom-built Malibu home? And then wrote a book about it? This is where we begin with “Buyer and Cellar.” When Alex More is hired as the “shopkeeper,” then the fun begins!
Lavish in detail about some very particular points of a superstar’s home, it draws us in, even before the show, with the expert playlist of Streisand hits, including favorites from “Yentl” and a soupçon of Stephen Sondheim for spice, which greet people when they enter to find their seats. With a deceptively simple set, it’s the perfect place for More to tell his story of meeting an idol and turning it into an idyll.
Tartaglia’s masterful characterization is truly something to behold. One of the conceits of the piece is that it’s not impersonation, as the character makes very clear in his introduction. We are clearly in the hands of gifted story tellers and the cast includes a dour handler named Sharon and my favorite–especially in his catty “mad” scene–is Barry, Alex’s boyfriend. He’s the raging queen that we all know and often love for his mordant and creative take on exactly what “Gypsy” might look like with Norma Desmond as Mama Rose. That’s his darkness, however, the rest of us are on board!
Whether you love la Streisand or she’s perhaps not your cuppa—REALLY?!—there is something for everyone to love in George Street Playhouse’s romp backward, and forward, down Memory Lane. This is a genius one-person show–don’t miss it!
Get your tickets now, as this show only runs through March 29 and if you want the 90-minute-abs workout of your life, you’ll be on your way to bathing suit buff at this dazzling derring-do. Visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org