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04/19/2007


Michael Urie Takes On Barbra Streisand in 'Buyer & Cellar': INTERVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Michael Urie is playing Barbra Streisand Off Broadway, and every other character in Buyer & Cellar, playwright Jonathan Tolins new one-man play which opened on Wednesday at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. An exceptionally gifted comedian and stage performer, Urie does the diva justice—and she’s just one piece of the story.

You may or may not be surprised to know that Barbra has her many earthly possessions organized into something that resembles a posh strip-mall in her basement. That is the factual part of the story. Buyer & Cellar imagines if she hired some poor (lucky?) soul to work down there, manning the shops for just one special customer.

BuyerCellar_16Urie plays just the man for the job—an out of work L.A. actor named Alex, who’s just been fired from playing the Mayor of Toon Town at Disneyland. Alex is the play’s narrator and protagonist, and while he tells us about his experience with one of the world’s most bizarre retail jobs, he also plays himself and every other character involved.

Tolins’ play is well crafted, hilarious, and completely accessible to folks who know nothing about Barbra Streisand. Of course, the show’s success is thanks in no small part to Urie’s charming, whirlwind performance. I spoke to Michael about his work on the play, his choice of gay roles, and his personal feelings on the lady of the house.

Naveen Kumar: How did you approach playing different characters with only yourself to play off of? You recently directed a film about high school forensics (Thank You For Judging), and I know from my own experience, that forensics (or speech and debate) requires some similar skills, like using yourself as a scene partner.

Michael Urie: I’m so glad you mentioned forensics, because it was so helpful to have that vocabulary of popping from character to character. I had experience with forensics in high school, and [have been] reliving it all these years with Thank You For Judging. So, when I read the script I was like, ‘I get it! I get how I could do this.’

I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to actually figure out. Because comedy is all about timing, and usually you time yourself off of others. Whether it’s an audience if you’re doing stand up or if you’re doing a scene, it’s about how you play off of [that other person]. So, I was like, how am I going to play off of myself? Not only that, but continue narrating the story. That was the greatest challenge.

I’ve learned more [performing in front of an audience] than I did through all of rehearsal, because audiences tell you what’s funny.

BuyerCellar_50There was no one way to create the characters, I had to attack them all in very different ways. There’s a lot of trust, obviously, in the playwright. What’s great about [John’s writing] is you could figure out how to play the character of Barbra even if you didn’t know who she was. He’s written that character so beautifully and so three-dimensionally, that I think you could probably interpret that character without any knowledge of Barbra Streisand and get really close.

NK: That was actually my next question. As the story’s narrator, Alex tells the audience from the beginning that he’s not going to “do” Barbra. Was it challenging to steer away from impersonation? How much did you know about her going in?

MU: That [line about not ‘doing’ Barbra] is such a brilliant precursor, and it takes so much of the onus off of me. Because everybody has an idea of what Barbra sounds like, she’s iconic. Even if it’s just 'Like buttah.' People have done impersonations, real impersonations, brilliantly. We didn’t want to try to do that, because it’s also not about her it’s about Alex, she’s just a character in [the play].

I think that’s part of John’s genius, that he has created something that’s meant to be an emulation—accurate storytelling rather than a series of impressions. Thank God! I don’t think I could do a real impression, certainly not without his words, I wouldn’t know what to say.

Read more, AFTER THE JUMP...

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News: Day Of Service, Yossi, MJF, 'Stoker'

1NewsIcon President Obama kicked off inauguration weekend by rolling up his sleeves for National Day of Service.

UCLA1NewsIcon Anti-gay danger near UCLA: "Two men stepped out of the vehicle and walked up to the victim. One of the suspects threatened the student with a knife and used anti-gay slurs... During the confrontation, the victim reportedly suffered minor scratches and bruises, but he did not want to be treated."

1NewsIcon More on the struggles openly gay military men and women and their spouses face post-DADT.

1NewsIcon New Jersey activists will have to win over more than a few GOP lawmakers if they want to pass marriage equality in the Garden State.

1NewsIcon New Mexico state Rep. Brian Egolf wants to include marriage equality in the state's constitution. From The Santa Fe New Mexican" "The proposal probably won’t have an easy time in the Legislature. Lawmakers in recent years haven’t even been able to pass legislation calling for state-recognized domestic partnership agreements."

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1NewsIcon "Supernatural is the best gay romance on TV that isn't actually gay."

1NewsIcon Check out some footage of Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode in Wentworth Miller's Stoker.

1NewsIcon New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and longtime girlfriend Sandra Lee have no plans to marry. Frank Bruni hopes that isn't an issue should Cuomo run for the White House in 2016: "...That would be an affirmation that we, as a voting public, have wised up to the frequent lack of any correlation between a tableau of traditional family life and the values, character and skills it takes to govern effectively. And I'm intrigued by politicians who are writing fresh scripts and handling their personal situations in surprising ways."

1NewsIcon Did Lance Armstrong sign an endorsement deal with crocodile tears?

1NewsIcon Catching up with Yossi from Yossi & Jagger: "...He has the dulled affect of someone suffering from depression, merely going through the motions of his life. Ten years after Jagger's death Yossi is still in the closet.... In the new film Yossi meets a young, openly gay soldier. The journey that follows seems to mirror that taken by Mr. Fox and many gay men in Israel. Let's just say the movie could have been titled, How Yossi Got His Groove Back."

Volcano1NewsIcon Volcanoes don't mess around.

1NewsIcon Tuxedos abound on Glee set.

1NewsIcon Michael Urie previews He's Way More Famous Than You.

1NewsIcon Manti Te'o swears he wasn't in on the dead girlfriend hoax.

1NewsIcon The faux feud between Taylor Swift and Michael J. Fox has been resolved. Phew!


News: Michael Urie, Linda Harvey, RuPaul, Israel

1NewsIcon Some bad news for gay actor Michael Urie: CBS decided his latest television venture, Partners, based on Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan's real-life friendship, didn't meet the ratings mark and gave it the ax.

GOproudtwinkies-11NewsIcon "Who killed the Twinkie?"

1NewsIcon The gay conservative group GOProud, in an email called "Unions Killed Twinkies," say they've stocked up and will give one to people who donate at least $50 to their right wing cause. Is it worth it?

1NewsIcon David Petraeus' affair is the gays' fault. Because, you know, why not?

1NewsIcon Rihanna and Kanye remix "Diamonds".

1NewsIcon Baby ducks and kittens make a great match.

1NewsIcon University of Michigan professor and author David Halperin discusses his new book, How To Be Gay. Part of the book looks at why gay men often celebrate certain types of celebrities, like Lady Gaga. Says Halperin, "What my analysis implies is that one way to explain gay male culture’s investment in some of these figures is to say that gay culture is responding to certain hierarchies of gender and sexuality that pervade the cultural field."

Sunspot1NewsIcon The sun has been exceptionally gassy this week.

1NewsIcon At least 42 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed in the increasingly violent and worrisome conflict between the two sides.

1NewsIcon The White House says Israel "has the right to defend itself".

1NewsIcon Take a listen to Will.i.am and Britney Spears' new single, "Scream and Shout".

1NewsIcon Zac Efron pumping... his gas.

1NewsIcon Gay activists in North Carolina are preparing for a fight to pass employment non-discrimination across the Tar Heel State. Said Stuart Campbell, executive director for Equality North Carolina, "We’re going to have to grow the base by creating coalitions and working with folks on the local level with lots of different communities. We’ll be building a movement that will ultimately lead to a statewide effort.”

1NewsIcon The Twin Peaks bar in San Francisco's Castro District has been given landmark status.

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1NewsIcon The United Nations have until Tuesday to decide whether or not to come out against state-sponsored discrimination against LGBT people.

1NewsIcon Rather than getting with the times and learning to accept the fact that there are gay people in this world, Linda Harvey and her conservative group, Mission: America, are trying to boycott all of the companies that scored well on Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. From their form letter: "You are highly-rated by the [HRC] as a company supportive of many aspects of the homosexual activist agenda. I am hoping you have done this out of ignorance about the true nature of both homosexuality and the goals of aggressive homosexual advocacy."


Brandon Routh and Michael Urie, and Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells to Play Gay in Pilots from 'Will & Grace', 'Glee' Creators

Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells is starring in the new sitcom pilot The New Normal by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, and Michael Ausiello reports that Murphy has now found Rannels a husband:

BarthaThe Glee boss has tapped Hangover actor Justin Bartha to play Rannells’ better half in The New Normal, his single-camera sitcom pilot about a blended family made up of a gay couple and the surrogate helping them have a baby of their own.

Georgia King has been cast as their surrogate, Goldie, and, as previously reported, Ellen Barkin co-stars as her glamorous grandma.

In other news, Brandon Routh and Michael Urie will play a gay couple in the new sitcom pilot from the creator of Will & Grace, Deadline reports:

Chuck alum and former Superman Brandon Routh, Elizabeth Regen and Lucy Davis have joined Michael Urie and Sophia Bush in the cast of CBS’ half-hour pilot Partners. The multicamera comedy, from Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, centers on lifelong friends and business partners —architects  Charlie, who is straight, and Louis (Urie), who is gay. Routh, repped by UTA and Main Title, will play Louis’ steady partner, a former alcoholic, club-hopping model, now a sober, vegan nurse.


Ugly Betty Actor Michael Urie: Queer But Not Gay

Ugly Betty actor talks about his sexuality in a new interview with The Advocate as the play he is starring in, The Temperamentals, about early gay rights activist Harry Hay, prepares for its third engagement.

Urie "I’ve never been in. I’ve never said I was straight, and I’m not saying I’m gay now. I never lie, and I’ve never shied away from the topic. I’ve certainly chosen through my work to do things that promote the rights of LGBTQ people. I am not a hypocrite—certainly not now."

Urie says he identifies as "queer":

"I’ve been in a relationship for a while now, and if you just met the two of us together we’d be ‘gay.’ But that somehow means anything that happened before [we met] didn’t count—and I don’t feel that way. I know that some people feel that way. They were with women, but it always felt wrong. But it didn’t for me. It felt right at the time. It didn’t work out, but it also didn’t work out with other men—many times. That’s why ‘gay’ never seemed right....Certainly there was a point where I was like, I don’t know how long Ugly Betty is going to last and how well it’s going to do, and I might want some real anonymity if it ends quickly. I was also never one to seek out publicity or attention, and I basically didn’t want to be labeled. That kind of attention could turn ugly. I guess if I wasn’t in a relationship with a man and I tried to tell people I was queer, it would appear to be a lie or a cop-out—à la college 10 years ago, when people believed in that notion of ‘bi now, gay later.’ But things are different now. I’m much more comfortable, and I’m in a relationship now. I’m not as worried about a future for myself."


Michael Urie Plays Early Gay Activist, Won't Discuss His Own Sexuality

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Ugly Betty actor Michael Urie, who is starring in a play right now called The Temperamentals, about the formation of the nation's first pre-Stonewall gay rights organization, The Mattachine Society, refuses to discuss his own sexuality with New York magazine:

In the context of this play, it's almost impossible not to ask you about your own sexuality. You've never really publicly declared it, but on your own website, you identify yourself as "a member of the LGBT community" and say that organizations that help people with HIV/AIDS or people who are LGBT are "A-Number 1 in my book!" So what's the deal?

Well, that's my M.O. I'm interested in keeping — you know, actors have to be able to do lots of different things, and while I'd say there's an ongoing theme [to the parts I play], I'm also not interested in having any real publicity about who I am and what my private life is and things like that. I'm an actor and I don't want to be a [fill-in-the-] blank actor.

Do you really think that saying "I'm gay" would stop you from getting an array of roles?


That's not really the point. By using publicity to say something like that, it could become a person's M.O, and I'm not interested in that. I really think this article should be about The Temperamentals. I understand where you're coming from and why you think this is important and that this is a play about being true to yourself. But artists and activists are not quite the same thing, and I feel like support can come from lots of different ways.

Do you get sick of reporters asking you about this?

They don't ask about it as much as you might think. Actually, it's been a long time since anyone asked it. I don't think it's really newsworthy if the gay guy from Ugly Betty is gay or not.

Except, of course, if he's playing a character "who left before he could be outed to become a fashion designer so influential he made the cover of Time in 1967" in a play about gays who stood up for themselves by coming out. 


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