By Barbara & Scott Siegel
We first saw Jesse Tyler Ferguson in 2005 when he originated Leaf Coneybear in William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. In a brilliant cast, full of breakout performances, he still stood out as unique, hilarious, touching, and clearly quite special. His subsequent career, particularly on TV and in the theater, has only burnished that original impression he made upon us more than a decade ago.
He is a five time Emmy Nominee for his regular role in Modern Family on television, plus he has also been a major advocate for LBGT causes around the country. But the thing that really knocks us out is that he has, in the past, come back to New York on a number of occasions to work in major supporting roles in The Public’s Shakespeare productions in Central Park during his Summer hiatus (A Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, and A Comedy of Errors). Returning to New York as a star and giving of yourself (and your star power) to The Public – and again being unique, hilarious, and touching – for free! – is pretty damned wonderful.
Which leads us to his current show, this time on Broadway – where he finally gets a roof – at the Lyceum Theatre in Fully Committed. This one-person (but multi-character) play turns out to be a spectacular showcase for Ferguson’s talent. The biggest surprise for many people is how exceptionally versatile he is.
Ferguson’s odd vocal rhythms, first so original and funny in Spelling Bee, and then offered to a national audience on television, have been his signature style. As much as they are unique to him, they have also created their own glass ceiling – until now, when so many characters, voices, and styles are on rapid-fire display. Whatever one thinks of Fully Committed as a play (we think it’s a light but penetrating piece about taking control of one’s life), there can be no doubt that it marks a major turning point in Ferguson’s career.
Not only does his success in the play mark him as a bona-fide theater star, signifying his ability to carry a show, it allows both producers and audiences, alike, to view this actor in a brand new way. Or rather, to view him as an actor who can be seen in a variety of new ways, opening up all sorts of possibilities for him to star in a wide range of projects. Based upon his abundant talent, star quality, and sheer likeability, audiences will surely follow him wherever he may lead them.