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No Reservation Needed: ‘Fully Committed’ on Broadway

May 2nd, 2016 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

fully committedSolo shows are like first dates: One can usually tell within the first 15 minutes whether or not there’s a spark. For the impatient New Yorker, one might whittle that down to five to ten. Nonetheless, whether or not chemistry exists, two parties enter into an agreement that they will spend a planned amount of time together and make the best of the situation.

With solo shows, a similar dynamic exists: a fast rapport must happen between the audience and the performer or else the rest of the evening is going to drag. So it was with a bit of hesitation that I decided to spend an evening with Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

I’ve never been a huge fan of television’s Modern Family star, but I figured I would leave all preconceived notions and expectations at the door and go along with him on his dissection of the elite culinary world in Broadway’s Fully Committed. It’s not that I have a personal vendetta towards him; I just fail to “get” his sense of humor. It often feels as though as he is wearing his quirkiness on his sleeve and is trying too hard to garner laughs. I realize that I am in the minority, especially since the audience (including celebrity chef Bobby Flay who was seated two rows ahead of me) was laughing out loud.

Becky Mode’s play, which originally opened Off Broadway in 1999, takes place in the dank basement of a haute cuisine Manhattan restaurant where pretentious items like “crispy deer lichen atop a slowly deflating scent-filled pillow, dusted with edible dirt” abound in a restaurant focused on molecular gastronomy. Sam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is the harried reservationist who fields calls from a multitude of diners.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson in 'Fully Committed.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson in ‘Fully Committed.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ferguson voices every customer from Bunny Vandevere, a socialite whose husband “may have invented Botox,” to Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn, a pushy New Yorker who desperately needs to speaks with and/or complain to Jean-Claude, the restaurant’s head chef. Ferguson also impersonates the establishment’s entire staff, as well as his own widowed father, a kindly midwestern man. While I still don’t consider myself an enthusiast, I must admit that Ferguson’s flexibility takes an intense amount of focus and his work here is an accomplishment.

Derek McLane’s set is impressive, with sky-high racks of wine shelving and piping that enhances the gloomy basement setting. But he’s also decided to stack chairs to the ceiling, a device that has been used in two recent Broadway shows (The Color Purple and Doctor Zhivago). Did I miss my invitation to the Ionesco fan club?

Fully Committed seems to be swallowed up the massive house at the Lyceum Theatre and would seem more fitting if it had returned to a more intimate venue like the Vineyard Theatre where it originated. The material itself is humorous and is especially appealing to those connected to a restaurant and hospitality industries. Still, it seems like a plate of hors d’oeuvres at a party: If the tray passes in front of you, you’ll probably eat one and enjoy it, but there’s no real reason to seek it out.

Fully Committed
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street, NYC
Through July 24

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

Three to See: April

April 5th, 2016 Comments off

April showers are raining on Broadway this month with last-minute openings for productions to be eligible for this year’s Tony Awards (the cut-off date is April 28). It was tough list to narrow down, but these are the three that we’ve got our eyes on (with a bonus show just for good measure!)

Jessie Mueller in 'Waitress.' (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Jessie Mueller in ‘Waitress.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel via The Broadway Blog.)

Waitress
Broadway’s favorite darling and Tony winner Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carol King Musical) leads the cast as Jenna, a waitress and expert pie maker in a small town who dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, and direction by Diana Paulus (Pippin, Finding Neverland), this team of female powerhouses promises to deliver a heaping serving of musical theater.

Waitress
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
Opening night: April 24

fully committedFully Committed
Our favorite funny man Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) finally returns to Broadway in a hilarious revival of Becky Mode’s one-person play, which was originally an Off Broadway tour de force.

You think you’re having a bad day at work? Meet Sam. He covers the red-hot reservation line at one of New York’s most exclusive restaurants, juggling desperate diners, scheming socialites, name-dropping wannabes, celebrity divas, panicked waiters and a fame-hungry chef. And in this sidesplitting comedy, Ferguson plays all 40 characters!

Fully Committed
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street
Opening night: April 25

 

shuffle along

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 And All That Followed
If there’s one show that might have just as much historical resonance and reinvention than runaway hit Hamilton, it’s this star-packed, behind-the-scenes look at the 1921 musical that redefined Broadway.

This retelling is helmed by director George C. Wolfe and stars Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry, Brooks Ashmanskas, and features choreography by Savion Glover. Put on your tapping shoes, this is going to be one wild ride! 

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 And All That Followed
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street
Opening night: April 28 

BONUS PICK

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard' at the English National Opera. (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at the English National Opera. (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith via The Broadway Blog.)


Skip the pond and head to the English National Opera’s revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring its original Broadway leading lady, Glenn Close. Critics are raving about her performance!

Sunset Boulevard
English National Opera
Through May 7, 2016.

Tony! Tony! Watch Nominations Live…

April 29th, 2013 Comments off

2012 Tony Award-winners James Corden, Audra McDonald, Nina Arianda, and Steve Kazee. (photo: Anita and Steve Shevett/Shevett Studios)

I’m having a flashback.
It’s my high school senior play (The Wizard of Oz… of course) and we all scramble out of homeroom to see the cast list. I was a shoe-in for the Scarecrow, or so I thought. We trampled each other toward the cast list that was posted during morning announcements. The anticipation… did I get it? Uh, no.

While I may have been relegated to a monkey (and not even a flying one at that), Broadway’s brightest talent had a bit more luck this season, and tomorrow morning – with the help of Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sutton Foster, The American Theatre Wing announces this year’s nominations for the coveted Tony Award.

You can catch all the action, live! Click the link below and relive all of those memories in a live stream and be the first to know who has been nominated. Help us predict this year’s winners by posting your comments on our Facebook page or our Twitter account, @thebroadwayblog.
And remember… everybody’s a winner. Not really.

Tune in Tuesday, May 1, 8:15 a.m. by clicking link below:

Launch the 2013 Tony Awards Live
Video Console!

A One Night Stand You Won’t Forget

February 6th, 2013 Comments off

A musical chord. A voice. A lyric.

There is something spectacular when these things come together on stage. It is the melting pot of the creative process, which sometimes takes months, years, if not decades to perfect as creative teams toil for the perfect harmonies or audition hundreds of actors for a single role.

The 24 Hour Musicals crams this entire process into a day. Produced by The Exchange in association with The 24 Hour Company as a benefit for the Orchard Project, an initiative that funds artistic development for an array of international theater companies and artists, the event was captured on film in the form of a 90-minute documentary, “One Night Stand.”

Fathom Events, known for its live HD streaming of the Metropolitan Opera, showcased the film on Jan. 30 in movie theaters across the country. Actors from theater, film and television including Cheyenne Jackson, Rachel Dratch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Richard Kind, among others, threw inhibition aside to perform 20-minute musicals that had literally been written the night before.

Lesson to be learned: it’s not easy. The film captures many facets of the creative process, but most of all humility. From toiling composers throwing up in the middle of the night to Dratch’s deer-caught-in-headlights expression, the vulnerability of exposing one’s talents to a room full of strangers is palpable.

While it would be impossible to show all four of the 20-minute musicals in their entirety, the choppy editing of the actual performances may leave you wondering if the final product turned out to be coherent.

The film will soon be released on DVD. Visit onenightstandthemovie.com for more information.