Working for a high-profile celebrity sounds like an amazing opportunity. One could receive a lot of exclusive perks and might even be able to get to know a superstar on a personal level.
Broadway Vista Theatre’s production of the one-man show Buyer and Cellar shows both the positives and negatives of getting a job helping a celebrity.
After being fired as a Disneyland cast member (as the Mayor of Toontown), a down-on-his-luck gay actor Alex More (Scott Arnold) seeks to find new employment. Alex is very excited when he gets the opportunity to become the “customer service” rep at the mall inside Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate basement.
The relationship between Alex and Streisand starts off as very professional, but he soon becomes convinced that the two of them begin to share a close bond.
Jonathan Tolins’ script contains several references to Streisand’s career. Discussions and jokes that involve her films, songs and personal life are brought up throughout the comedy.
An interesting aspect about Tolins’ play is how he ties the plot into the actress’s coffee table book about her house, “My Passion for Design” (highlighted on co-owner Douglas Davis’ set). Her book inspired the show and is referenced often by Alex, stating from the opening scene.
With the exception of a few segments that dwell too long on Streisand’s flaws and triumphs, the play is a fair representation that acknowledges both her talents and her notoriously egocentric behavior. If Buyer and Cellar doesn’t always portray her in a positive light, Tolins still finds plenty of moments to paint her with a favorable brush and humanize her.
While Barbra gets a lot of attention, the story is really about Alex and his experiences. Tolins writes Alex as a down-to-earth, naturally humorous man, which allows his out-of-the-ordinary tale to feel relatable to audiences.
On opening night, there were a couple of moments where Arnold slipped up. Regardless, he was still consistently enthusiastic and charismatic, and he has an everyman quality that fits well with the role of Alex. He also depicts several other people including Barbra, Alex’s caring and judgmental boyfriend Barry, and Barbara’s entertainingly stern house manager, Sharon.
Alex says early in Buyer & Cellar that his depictions of other people aren’t meant to be full-on impersonations. Instead, he acts like a storyteller sharing anecdotes at a party or social gathering.
Besides Arnold and Tolins, the other person responsible for the hilarious evening is co-owner, Randall Hickman. Theatregoers will often feel that Arnold is directly talking to them, because of Hickman’s intimate direction.
One decision, either by Hickman or Dramatists Play Service, does result in Buyer and Cellar losing a little bit of its edge. Some of Tolins’ more profane language in his original published script is toned down, probably so that sensitive patrons aren’t offended. Given that the play isn’t meant for children, this seems unnecessary.
Hickman’s audio include songs that fit the subject matter, such as Streisand’s hit tune, “The Way We Were,” and Ethel Merman’s rendition of “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” from “Gypsy.” These scenes showcase Alex’s giddiness, and Arnold acts through them in a very amusing manner.
Not everyone watching Buyer and Cellar is as knowledgeable about Streisand as Alex is, and that’s perfectly fine. Tolins’ main goal is to tell a compelling and humorous plot about fame, employment and human connection. On that level, he keeps both Streisand devotees and nonfans equally engaged with the material.
Well-cast and witty, Hickman’s rendition will leave people excited to see what Arnold decides to do next. Buyer and Cellar works as both a funny evening’s entertainment and a smart exploration of a major icon.