Tom Lenk stars as Streisand’s nerdy shopkeeper in Tolins’ hit ‘Buyer & Cellar’

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Theaterworks Hartford and producing artistic director Rob Ruggiero have once again delivered a terrific night for theater lovers with Jonathan Tolins’ hit one-man show, Buyer & Cellar. Playing through Feb. 14, the laugh-out-loud play stars SAG award-winning actor Tom Lenk in one of the juiciest comedy roles written for an in-the-know contemporary audience.

Mr. Lenk is engaging from the moment he begins his intimate hour and three quarter “conversation” about his character’s hilarious sales job in the magical basement mall of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu ‘pseudo Connecticut’ compound. He’s a consummate professional who can channel the essence of La Streisand as well as numerous other characters, including “Mr. Streisand” -- James Brolin -- without trying to be a run-of-the-mill Barbra impersonator.

Tom Lenk’s body language and physical dexterity allows him to fill the stage -- no mean feat for a one-man show. We managed to speak with him for a few moments after his standing ovation performance. He told us that he had done the show last year in Pittsburgh, but when he began rehearsals at Theaterworks Hartford director Rob Ruggiero’s vision of blocking was completely different from what he had learned in Pennsylvania, but he happily collaborated to bring a fresh imagining of the hit New York show.

Although the dialog was the same, the physical action had been re-worked, and he had to unlearn all the previous staging -- resulting in what we all saw on opening night, Saturday Jan. 16 -- an outrageous, action-packed tour-de-force performance by a superb comedic actor.

In answer to our questioning his ability to sustain his command of the stage with no intermission Tom quipped: “I would pay them for an intermission, and I know exactly where I would put it!” (Once you see the show, try to guess at which point an intermission would naturally fit, we’ll tell you if you’re right!) Email us at Tom also gave us some insight into how it is playing multiple characters in the play “...sometimes in the back of my head I get mad at Barbra or my imaginary boyfriend Barry while I’m onstage and then I realize...’oh wait, I’m getting mad at myself!’”

While it is true that Barbra Streisand does have a mall in her basement, and did write a book on decorating, the rest of the show is the result of the wide-ranging imagination of the playwright Jonathan Tolins. Mr. Tolins has written this loving tribute to Barbra and her myth -- and claims that she has not yet sent her lawyers with a subpoena to his front door. We came out of the theater thinking “If the Funny Girl herself had seen this, we’ll bet she’d be laughing as hard as we did, and would probably try to hire Tom Lenk to join her entourage.”

This is a perfect show for fans of comedy, Streisand aficionados and those seeking imaginative theater. With a minimalist set by Luke Hegel Cantarella, enhanced by Rob Denton’s lighting/video projection, and sound design by Zachary Moore, this smartly funny collaboration between actor Tom Lenk, assistant director Eric Ort and director Rob Ruggiero puts Buyer & Cellar at the top of our ‘must see’ theater recommendations.

Buyer & Cellar plays through Feb. 14 at Theaterworks Hartford on Pearl Street. Show times are Tues Wed. Thur. 7:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 8:00 pm and weekend matinees at 2:30 pm. Call the box office 860-527-7838 or go to for ticket prices and complete show information.

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