Buyer & Cellar star Michael Urie grew up in Dallas, Texas. So did Christopher J. Hanke. On Broadway, Urie played the comically villainous Bud Frump in the 2012 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, taking over the role when originator Hanke left the production. Now, beginning March 18, the two actors will share another milestone. Hanke will step into the role of Alex More in Buyer & Cellar at off-Broadway's Barrow Street Theatre while Urie, who has starred in the production for the past year, leaves to launch the show on a national tour.
The uproarious one-man show is inspired by one unique detail mentioned in Barbra Streisand's 2010 coffee table book My Passion for Design: a private shopping mall built into her basement. The fictional story details Alex's experiences as an unemployed actor who lands the day job to beat all day jobs: the solitary employee in the shopping center beneath Babs' feet. TheaterMania joined the two actors in their (onstage) cellar to talk about their adorable friendship, unusually vocal audiences, and the first time they touched.
The two of you first met when Michael took over for Christopher in How to Succeed?
Michael Urie: Yes.
Christopher J. Hanke: Although we really first met when I was doing Hair in Central Park. I was Claude at Shakespeare in the Park and there was a moment when the audience came onstage at the end. And [Michael] came up. We were still in character, but I remember, like, touching him, because we were hugging all the audience members and touching them, and that's the first time we actually touched.
That must have been a memorable experience for you.
Christopher J. Hanke: Oh god, I stalked him on Ugly Betty. I thought he was unbelievable on that show.
Michael Urie: [It was memorable for] me, too! Because I had just seen him in [Hair]. He was fantastic.
What was your relationship like when you met at How to Succeed?
Michael Urie: He was awesome to me. He told me about the job and how much fun it was. And also, because when dressing rooms get turned over on Broadway, they repaint them, he gave me the heads-up that if I liked the way it looked, which I did, that I could let them know not to paint it.
Christopher J. Hanke: It was chelsea gray. It's like a charcoal gray but a very specific one. And I left [Michael] a brand new rug. And he commented on the bins I had, [so] I bought him bins.
Michael Urie: And champagne, I think.
Christopher J. Hanke: Maybe. I'm classy!
Michael Urie: He's classy. I've gotta figure out what I'm gonna leave him. Regret. That's what I'll leave.
Christopher J. Hanke: And pain. [laughs]
Why do you think you were you both cast in these two roles?
Christopher J. Hanke: I don't know, it's funny. We're so different.
Michael Urie: And what's interesting too is Bud Frump in How to Succeed is very different from this. They're both comedies. So that's the same. But [Frump is] an evil, really stupid guy who sings and dances.
Christopher J. Hanke: But this is very smart.
Michael Urie: [We play] several smart, complicated individuals. [Frump] is anything but complicated. But you know, I think, to play uncomplicated people, you actually have to be kind of complicated. That also makes sense that we would both be right for this too.
What are you guys hoping for the future of this show?
Christopher J. Hanke: Speaking for me, it would be fun if this could be like it's own little brand. And we could just say like, "Hey, Christopher, are you available? Miami wants to do it for three weeks." And I'm like, "Oh actually, I am. Great." Or I'm like, "No I can't. Call Michael." Just to have sort of a circle.
Michael Urie: And as more Alexes come into the fold, I think it will attract nice people and cool people. Because it's a lot of work! But the payoff is really special.
Christopher J. Hanke: And I want to take this show on a cruise ship. Hello! It's a one-man cast! No set! It's hilarious.
Michael Urie: Do people get drunk and go see shows on cruise ships? If everyone's drunk, I think it would work, but occasionally when we have like a few drunk people—
Christopher J. Hanke: Do they, like, talk back?
Michael Urie: They do. But what's fun is that people try to guess what's going to happen. So, for example, my favorite is there's a line where I talk about how this character is cast in a play and Doris Roberts is gonna play the mom. But then Doris Roberts ends up not doing it because she read the script. And I put a pause before "read the script." And twice, this has happened twice, somebody in the audience just said, "Died!" They tried to guess died. She is not dead.
Christopher J. Hanke: Is that a comic pause that you take so you can really land "read the script"?
Michael Urie: Yeah.
Christopher J. Hanke: Ooh, I love you.
What's exciting for you about this show, Christopher?
Christopher J. Hanke: Sometimes you get calls to do shows that you're not really excited about, but you want to work and you want to continue making money and being creative, but maybe you put on a brave face and go, Ok, I could do that. But then things come along where they say, "We're gonna pay you a dollar," and you're like, "I don't care, it's gonna be so fulfilling!" and that's what this is.
Michael Urie: You're getting paid!?
Christopher J. Hanke: A dollar! I said a dollar! Calm down.
Michael Urie: I want ten percent.
What does it feel like to be leaving now?
Michael Urie: It's weird. I've never had a successor before and I've never done a play this long before. And I'm going on the road with it. But I will also say, I'm ready...I'm really proud of this show and I would love, when it does eventually, close, I'd love to come back and close it myself. So I definitely have a vested interest in who's got the keys to the cellar.