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The diva of her domain
How Streisand’s ornate estate inspired the hilarious ‘Buyer & Cellar’ with Michael Urie
By BARBARA HOFFMAN
Last Updated: 11:38 PM, June 29, 2013
Posted: 10:56 PM, June 29, 2013
This whole thing is fake,” Michael Urie declares in the opening minutes of “Buyer & Cellar” at the Barrow Street Theatre.
“I don’t exist. What does exist . . . is
And with that, he holds up “My Passion for Design” by Barbra Streisand.
Yes. That Barbra.
The diva’s 2010 coffee-table tome chronicles the creation of her Malibu estate, a meticulously put-together paradise designed by the diva herself. All told, it’s a 295-page paean to an impeccable eye, limitless budget and unparalleled access, as in, “I had the furniture shop at Warner Bros. make the mahogany canopy for me.”
Barbra Streisand is so discerning that she coordinates the colors of the koi in her Malibu estate, the subject of her coffee-table book, "My Passion for Design."
Along with the house itself, the Funny Girl’s West Coast complex includes a pond, gardens, a mill, a barn — and a shopping mall.
Or, as Streisand refers to it on page 190, “Underground . . . a Basement?? . . . No . . . a Street.”
And in that single elliptical disclosure, followed by photos of a cobblestone path lined with “stores” of Streisandian treasures — doll shop, antique shop, gift “shoppe” — a play was born.
After Jonathan Tolins’ husband gave him a copy of “My Passion for Design,” the playwright penned a one-man, multiple-character fantasia about a down-on-his-luck LA actor who finds a job working in Barbra’s basement. It’s prefaced by an ingenious disclaimer: “What I’m going to tell you could not possibly have happened with a person as famous, talented and litigious as Barbra Streisand.”
In other words: Lawyers, drop your briefs.
The 95-minute show — in which Urie plays the actor, his boyfriend, a disapproving house manager, the star and her hubby, James Brolin — just started its second downtown run. This spring, it played at the smaller Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, where the “Ugly Betty” star and the play met rapturous reviews — The Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli called it “fantastically funny” — but no Streisand.
“The No. 1 question we always get is ‘Has she been?’ ” Tolins tells The Post as he and Urie sit in the latter’s tiny dressing room. “No, she hasn’t. But her friends have.”
Says Urie, happily: “Barry Manilow saw it at the Rattlestick! He said he’s hung out with her a few times and it was true to her and what she’s like. He even said, ‘She’ll love it!’ ”
Perhaps. Then again, you’re dealing with a dame so discerning, she color-coordinates her koi. There they are, on page 50: “Even the fish are only black or white. No orange. (A little yellow is okay.)”
Tolins is no stranger to divas — he used to write Bette Midler’s shows. But Bette and Babs, he says, are very different: “I think Barbra’s known for taking herself very seriously, but Bette has a great sense of humor about herself.”
Nor does the Divine Miss M have an underground shopping center, though her Fifth Avenue apartment boasts what Tolins calls “the greatest library — it’s two stories high, with books all the way to the ceiling!”
He says his only close encounter with Streisand was 20 years ago, when she came to the Pasadena Playhouse to see his play “Twilight of the Golds.” Rather than buy the movie rights, the singer offered him a piece of her Kit Kat.
“I was afraid I’d make a mess, so I didn’t take it,” Tolins says, “and I regret it to this day.” A version of the Kit Kat story made it into “Buyer & Cellar.”
Tolins started writing the play with one actor in mind — “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who’d just committed to doing Shakespeare in the Park.
“When my mother heard that, she went, ‘Oh, I love him! I would have loved to have seen him in this!’ ” Urie says. (“And she’s not even Jewish,” Tolins quips.)
The playwright says his next call was to Urie, with whom he’d worked on TV’s “Partners.” The 32-year-old actor wasn’t particularly obsessed with Streisand but has fond memories of watching her concerts on TV with his mom back in Plano, Texas.
“I wanted to play the role in the play, not someone’s idea of her,” Urie says. “I feel she’s most herself in her movies — particularly ‘Meet the Fockers.’ She’s so funny in that and she’s really sexy in that movie, too.”
As it happens, there’s a little bit of “Fockers” in Streisand’s mall: Those “lovely posts and corbels” in the dark-paneled doors were ripped straight from the movie set.
Alas, you’ll have to use your imagination to see them — and the “Funny Girl” dress under glass, the frozen yogurt machine and the bubble-blowing doll. “Buyer & Cellar” is performed on a mostly bare stage.
Then again, Tolins says, you can always buy the book. Originally priced at $60, it’s selling for less than half that on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds benefit her heart foundation, the Barbra Streisand Women’s Cardiovascular Research and Education Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Which, when you think of it, is nearly as impressive as having your rose bushes match your Farrow & Ball wallpaper.