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Becky Mode’s Fully Committed has been one of the most produced plays in America since its debut in 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequent transfer for a long run at the Cherry Lane. But the one-person show set at the reservation desk in the dingy, ramshackle basement of a hotter-than-hot New York City restaurant gets lost in its Broadway bow at the Lyceum Theatre. Five-time Emmy nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) takes over the role of Sam (originated by Mark Setlock), a struggling actor working at a hip “molecular gastronomy” eatery where tables must be reserved three months in advance. On this particular day, his manager, Bob, and coworker, Sonya, are not in, leaving him to man the phones alone, a nearly impossible task. In addition to fielding calls from people either making reservations or complaining about various problems, Sam has to deal with his father, who wants him to come home for Christmas; his friend and fellow actor Jerry, who is up for the same role in a show at Lincoln Center; and the crazy chef, who contacts him via a special red phone. The conceit is that Ferguson does all the voices on the other side of the line while running across the stage, from his central desk to the chef’s corner phone to finding a hot spot where his cell phone can get service for personal calls. Among the more than forty characters Ferguson gives voice to are his gentle-speaking dad; demanding VIP customers Bunny Vandevere and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; Mafioso Dominic Veccini; Mrs. Sebag, who insists she has a reservation despite Sam finding no record of it; and the cheerful Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, who is arranging a party at the restaurant with some very special requests.
It takes a while for the show to get cooking as the audience acclimates to Ferguson’s ever-shifting voices and the distinct rhythm of the show, but then it goes on far too long and is annoyingly repetitive as the ultraslim plot erodes like a stale piece of bread. It might work in small, intimate theaters, but on Broadway it feels more like an interesting comedy sketch that never ends. (The running time is ninety minutes.) Director Jason Moore (Shrek the Musical, Avenue Q) can’t come up with quite the right recipe, despite Ferguson’s best efforts. And McLane’s set, which was inspired by the reservation room at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café and installations by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and features a glut of chairs hanging from the ceiling and a back wall that holds more than nine hundred bottles of wine — feels cold and distant. In our ever-growing foodie culture, this Broadway version of Fully Committed — a term the chef insists the reservationists use instead of “booked” — is merely half-baked, a promising meal that ends up disappointing on the plate and the palate.