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Jesse Tyler Ferguson tackles 40 characters in ‘Fully Committed’

Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays roughly 40 characters in

Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays roughly 40 characters in one-man show "Fully Committed." Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Fully Committed”

WHERE Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

INFO $45-$147; 212-239-6200; fullycommittedbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE Good Jesse Tyler Ferguson miscast in showcase for a vocal impersonator

Jesse Tyler Ferguson is a very talented fellow who, at least from an audience perspective, exudes exceptionally nice-guy qualities. So it feels bad to have to say this, but Ferguson, despite exhausting commitment to this demanding 80-minute comic showcase, is totally wrong for “Fully Committed.”

He is lovely as Sam, the desperate unemployed actor moonlighting as a reservationist in the basement of the hottest New York restaurant, the kind that prides itself on such ridiculously passé ingredients as “edible dirt” and a philosophy of “molecular gastronomy.”

But this is a one-man play in credit only. In reality, playwright Becky Mode’s invention — an off-Broadway hit in the late ‘90s and a regional-theater staple — requires this one man give anxious, urgent, wildly divergent voice to the 40-odd customers and bosses who plead and torment him over the phone and via the upstairs intercom.

And Ferguson, alas, appears to have five, maybe six voices at his command. This is no crime, were the whole point something other than a showoff platform for an expert impersonator and vocal chameleon.

The people who keep calling and calling may be meant to represent many cultures, genders and ages expressed in an infinite range of pathetic and obnoxious quirks. To me, unfortunately, most of them sounded like Ferguson talking in a few supposedly funny accents and expressing the snooty, the social climbing, the effeminate, the macho, the feeble and the assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow with a distressingly limited number of gestures.

Before the country embraced him in “Modern Family,” he was already a favorite of New York theatergoers as young sailor Chip in his Broadway debut in “On the Town,” or as the prepubescent Leaf Coneybear in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” And in recent summers, he has played any number of comic foils in free Shakespeare in Central Park.

So naturally, there are pleasures to be had in this show, directed at a breathless, ultimately monotonous pace by Jason Moore. The set by Derek McLane puts Sam in a windowless, irrationally low-tech boiler room with an old fashioned landline and file cabinets, an irrelevant hanging collage of wooden chairs and such bad Wi-Fi that Sam has to climb a pipe to get reception on his cell. Every so often, Ferguson gets to burst into physical freedom and away from the nonstop demands of quick-change voices. In those moments, it feels good to welcome him back.

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