Categories: Arts Theater

Funny guy fuels NCTC’s ‘Buyer & Cellar’

Hello gorgeous: “Buyer & Cellar” at the New Conservatory Theatre Center is a Barbra Streisand-themed confection that — dare one say? – goes down like buttah.

J. Conrad Frank is sublime as Alex More, an underemployed gay actor (and former Disneyland cast member) who gets a truly odd job – as a sales clerk in the basement mall on Streisand’s Malibu compound. He has only one customer, and it’s the superstar herself.

Writer Jonathan Tolins’ script is packed with humor, right from the start, as Alex tells the audience that the story he is about to tell is “preposterous,” purely a work of fiction (particularly given the litigious nature of his subject).

The seed of truth is that Streisand does have shops in her cellar, which she photographed for a coffee table book called “My Passion for Design.”

“The truth is very important to her,” says Sharon, Streisand’s house manager, another character Frank deftly portrays in the one-person show directed with joy and economy by Rebecca Longworth.

“Greet the customer and make it feel real,” Sharon tells Alex, who’s given a luxuriously soft leather apron, his costume.

Business is slow at first, and Alex gets to know the inventory in the dress shop (the frock she wore singing “People” onstage in “Funny Girl”) and doll emporium.

Then Barbra, with the 1990s Jennifer Aniston “Rachel” haircut, comes in, and things go fairly well as they haggle over the price of an antique doll named Fifi (“I was not prepared for this,” Alex says).

Frank not only does a believable interpretation of Streisand (the accent, some eye-crossing), he’s also great portraying Alex’s fast-talking boyfriend Barry.

As Alex is drawn into Barbra’s life (he even becomes her coach as she prepares to play Mama Rose in “Gypsy”), Barry hilariously takes him to task, astutely deconstructing the self-serving “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (Pierce Brosnan, and every man, is “unworthy” of Streisand) and calling Alex his employer’s latest acquisition.

Even hubby James Brolin pops, up, too (or comes downstairs) to have a frozen yogurt.

There’s no yogurt machine on the minimal set. Yet a chaise lounge, sculpturally arranged picture frames and a dress form provide a fine backdrop to the very funny, and sometimes poignant, proceedings.

Tolins’ romp, an off-Broadway hit, is a pop culture bonanza, which Frank gleefully brings to life. He’s as charming as the original Alex, Michael Urie (who appeared at the Curran in The City in 2014).

A must-see for Streisand fans, “Buyer & Cellar” also is a treat for anyone up for lots of laughs and a fun meditation on the cult of celebrity.

REVIEW
Buyer & Cellar
Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes April 24
Tickets: $25 to $45
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

Leslie Katz

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