“For all of us in the theater, it’s a very confusing time,” says Michael Urie. “People are scared and frustrated. We don’t know when we’re going to be back on stage. We don’t know when the theater is going to be reopened. We don’t know when we’re going to be able to congregate. It’s a very communal activity, theater. The theater doesn’t really work unless it’s a performance that was created for the people in the room.”
So, Urie, a dynamo of an actor beloved for his work in the TV series Ugly Betty and highly regarded for his Broadway and regional appearances (locally he gave a mesmerizing, wholly original spin on the title role in Hamlet), opted to “make lemonade out of the lemons that we’re all being delivered here in quarantine.”
He’s teamed with Broadway.com, Rattlestick Playwright Theater, and Pride Plays to present a live, one-night-only performance of Buyer & Cellar, the one-person tour de force by playwright Jonathan Tolins. Urie is intimately familiar with the show, having performed it more than 600 times, including in Washington, D.C., in 2014, at The Shakespeare Theater.
“The show is a totally fictional account of a completely made-up guy who gets hired to run the street of shops that actually exist in the basement of Barbara Streisand’s home,” says Urie. “So the guy’s fake, the job is fake, the story is fake, but the setting is very real.” Urie plays all the characters, including Babs herself. “It’s completely delightful, it’s ingenious, and it’s so much fun to do. There’s nothing quite like it. As one-person shows go, it’s a game-changer.”
Urie and his husband, actor-playwright Ryan Spahn, are clearing out their living room to create a performance space for the show, which benefits the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. “We can’t do a full set,” says Urie, “but that is a play that doesn’t need a lot of stuff.”
He notes it’s not a reading but a full performance, with multiple cameras set up to capture the action from different angles. “I’ll be off-book. It will be a singular performance that will be live and then available, I believe, for only 24 hours after.”
Urie’s greatest challenge are the laugh breaks he would normally take during a performance in front of a live audience. “I’m used to doing it where the audience laughs and I have to hold for that laugh,” he says. “This time around I won’t be getting any [audible] laughs, which is going to be really, really interesting and definitely a different experience than I’ve had during the play before…. I’ll just have to feel it out.
“When I was doing it live, I would get so accustomed to holding for a laugh that I planned my breathing around it. The play is 100 minutes and I basically never stop talking, so I would breathe during laughter. I remember when an audience laughed less than I was used to, I had trouble breathing. So this is something I’m working on as I practice the play now. I’m figuring out the best way to breathe, so that I don’t have to rely on the laugh holds.”
Buyer & Cellar streams live on Sunday, April 19, at 8 p.m. ET at www.broadway.com and at www.youtube.com/broadwaycom. It’s free to watch, but donations are highly encouraged. All funds raised will support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.
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