“Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays 40 roles—some male, some female; some civilized, others obnoxious—in “Fully Committed,” a riotous one-man Broadway comedy set in the basement of a trendy Manhattan restaurant.
The main character, Sam Callahan, is a struggling actor from the Midwest working one of those jobs actors do while pursuing their dreams. In this case, it’s manning an ever-ringing reservation line for a preening chef, a pioneer in “molecular gastronomy.” “Fully committed” is the euphemism Sam’s boss has coined for: “We’re booked up.”
“Ma’am, unfortunately, we’re fully committed” is what prospective patrons don’t want to hear when they dial up Sam.
Becky Mode’s comedy, directed here by Jason Moore (“Pitch Perfect”), was first performed Off-Broadway in 1999; it’s since been updated to reflect more contemporary foodie culture. For this production, Ferguson had help with background research from well-known city restaurateurs, who showed him their color-coded guest lists and so-forth.
Ferguson, a five-time Emmy nominee, has given many a memorable performance in New York, from his celebrated turn in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” to more recent appearances at Shakespeare in the Park. This blissfully frenetic expedition takes things to a whole new level.
Aside from Sam, Ferguson is, at times the haughty chef, more concerned more with cookbook sales than his customers; a useless maitre d’; a harried British hostess; and a Hispanic line cook, who addresses Sam as “Papi.”
He is both a top magazine editor at Bon Appétit and that editor’s put-upon assistant, who call regularly to inquire just why their photographer has been kept waiting in the restaurant’s lounge since 8:30 a.m. (Turns out, it’s payback for a comment the magazine made about the chef’s “edible dirt”).
There’s more: Ferguson plays Bryce, a squealing assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow—who fares worse here than, say, Barbara Streisand in “Buyer & Cellar”; a terminally dissatisfied Park Avenue socialite; an iron-willed regular named Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, whose calls no one upstairs will take because “she looks like a horse,” and so on.
Ferguson had help from a Juilliard dialect coach nailing all the different accents, and succeeds brilliantly.
Most everyone calling in makes Sam’s life miserable, save for his widowed dad, who is gently trying to get Sam to come home for Christmas.
Among the biggest offenders are his fellow reservation-taker, Bob, whose absence on this day is making Sam’s life twice as difficult; a nameless customer so desperate for a table he sends a messenger over with a gratuity; and a “friend” and fellow actor Sam routinely competes with for parts.
Ultimately, we behold a fascinating evolution, as the beleaguered fella turns the tables on those who’ve been wounding his spirit. Everyone gets their just, uh, desserts? Revenge is a dish best served cold? Yes, and yes. “Fully Committed” wraps on a note more satisfying than anything we imagine is actually cooked up at this ridiculous restaurant.
“Fully Committed,” through July 24 at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St. Tickets: $45-$147. Call 212-239-6200.