The burgeoning homegrown theater scene at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts just got a bit larger with the opening of Fully Committed, a solo show with a dizzying array of characters now onstage as part of the Abdo New River Room Theater Series.
Actually, this is the second time around for a Broward Center-produced presentation of Becky Mode’s Off-Broadway hit. In 2001, Fully Committed became the center’s first self-produced show. But now it’s back, with a different hard-working star and at a time when the Broward Center is forging partnerships with such professional South Florida companies as Slow Burn Theatre and Outré Theatre.
John Manzelli, an actor-director who has performed Fully Committed at two theaters outside of South Florida, has the daunting task of playing Sam, a reservation taker at a scorching hot Manhattan restaurant, and several dozen other characters. Whether or not Manzelli put on any weight over the holidays, he’s bound to slim down during the run of Fully Committed, which is about as frenzied as a solo show gets.
Sam, the anchor character, is (like so many New York restaurant workers) an out-of-work actor who pays his bills by working at a dining establishment. His kingdom is located in the chic hotspot’s jam-packed basement, where he answers calls from would-be diners desperate for not just a table but for the perfect table.
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Though the restaurant’s tables are typically booked two months in advance, though most days and nights the place is beyond completely full, Sam knows that some callers would do just about anything — including bribery, threats and outright lying — to secure a spot.
Manzelli is tasked with playing Sam and all the would-be customers (including model Naomi Campbell’s picky assistant and a mafioso who wants a waiter to sing The Lady Is a Tramp at his parents’ anniversary dinner), the restaurant’s demanding owner-chef, the hostess, the maitre d’, the dismissive assistant to Sam’s agent, a competitive fellow actor, Sam’s widower father and more.
The audience works up a sweat just watching him as he juggles constantly ringing phones and morphs from character to character with lightning-fast changes in facial expression, physicality and voice. Since most of the characters arrive and disappear so quickly, many are necessarily sketched-in, exaggerated, even stereotypical. But that has at least as much to do with Mode’s script as it does with Manzelli’s performance. Manzelli is also producing artistic director of Miami’s City Theatre and an associate theater professor at Barry University.
Co-directed by Manzelli and Hugh M. Murphy, the 90-minute, intermission-free play gets fine design work from Sean McClelland (set), Matt Corey (sound) and Preston Bircher (lighting). And if audience members are so inclined, they can turn Fully Committed into a kind of immersive experience by ordering from the Abdo’s “small plates” menu (the food is excellent and affordable, and servings aren’t so small at all).
Fully Committed isn’t quite so funny or heart-warming as Mode probably intended. But it is observant and entertaining, and as Manzelli settles firmly back into its challenging groove, the laughs and scattered sweet moments are likely to grow stronger.
If you go
What: ‘Fully Committed’ by Becky Mode.
Where: Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 1.
Information: 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org.