In the corporate world, employees leaving a job are asked to sit through a sometimes exhausting “exit interview” with HR about their time at the company. Although that concept doesn’t exist for Broadway performers, we think it’s fun to check in with stars as they finish up a successful run. For over a year, Michael Urie has been trapped in a basement—Barbra Streisand’s basement, to be exact—in Jonathan Tolins’ one-man show Buyer & Cellar. After a year of playing every role in the hit comedy at the Barrow Street Theatre, he concludes his off-Broadway run on March 16. Before Urie brings the show to “people who need people” all across the country, he reflected on his “delightful, isolating and Babtastic” year.
How did you feel when you first got the job?
TERRIFIED! Of course, I was grateful too. I knew what a special piece of writing I was being given by Jonathan Tolins, and what a unique and perfect place and time David Van Asselt and the Rattlestick Theatre were providing. I knew the play would work, given the right presentation, and the Rattlestick was exactly the right kind of hip and edgy downtown theatre that we needed to share such a wholly original work. Thanks to Dan Shaheen and Ted Snowdon, we were in rehearsal within a month and I was sweating it out in front of a paying audience a mere three-and-a-half weeks later!
How do you feel now that you’re leaving?
After nearly 370 performances I'm trying to keep my eyes open. Not only because I'm very tired, but also because I've never experienced this kind of work before, this many performances and this much kindness from press/friends/patrons and I don't want to miss a thing. Come March 17, I intend to close my eyes very tightly, and sleep for a few days. Or perhaps go on a silent retreat.
What are three words you would use to describe your experience at the job?
Delightful. Isolating. Babtastic.
What was the easiest thing about the job?
It has been surprisingly easy to keep the play fresh, due in great part to the wonderful writing, but also my fabulous co-stars! Each performance, a group of 200 strangers come to the Barrow Street Theatre to hear me tell this story—their new and fresh take on what I've got to say has been exactly what I need to tell the story as if it's never been told.
What was the hardest thing?
Five-show weekends! Since June, I've been performing Friday nights, then twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. Mondays are trying…
What was the highlight of your time at this job?
I will never tire of watching the audience's faces as they catch on to the tale I'm spinning. Granted, some people have a frowny at-rest face, which can be interpreted by my insecure brain as any number of things. BUT, most people watch the play with a surprised look of joy, that is completely priceless and it never gets old.
What skills do you think are required for future job applicants?
You gotta love telling a story, and have no problem looking people in the eye. There are 200 expectant souls out there every night waiting for you to wow them. They are the nervous ones, after all they know it's a one man show (what if they hate the one man?!), they saw the sign out front that there's no intermission (they're stuck), and they know it's 100 minutes! Luckily both Clancy O'Connor, my understudy who filled in during my vacation and Christopher Hanke, my successor, are both natural charmers. One flash of their pearly whites and all is well.
What advice would you give to future employees in your job position?
Never go onstage grumpy! YouTube has a wealth of things to make one giggle last minute—and Sam the assistant stage manager has plenty of jokes.
How do you think you’ve grown during your time at this job?
I've become very forgiving of myself. When you're a part of an ensemble, playing one role with a smattering of scenes, it can be very easy to focus on the small stuff. When you're the entire ensemble, and have to play all the parts in all the scenes, there are inevitably going to be any number of missteps a night, and there's no time for mourning. A word burble or missed laugh that may have plagued me for the remainder of the night in past shows is easily left behind now, thanks to B&C.
Why are you leaving?
I must tour! I've got a six-week hiatus before I bring the Cellar to Chicago, D.C. and L.A. So I need a break to rest up for new cities, new people and much bigger theatres!
What will you miss most about the job?
Since I'm not finished with the play or the role(s) and I won't have to say goodbye to the playwright, director, producers, nor hopefully the crew, I'd have to say the West Village. Working downtown is a dream, and getting to know the staffs of Barrow Street and Rattlestick, the restaurants, shops and quiet streets have been a true honor. I'll miss the hood.