When MetroStage’s artistic director Carolyn Griffin pursued staging Becky Mode’s comedy Fully Committed, a huge hit on Broadway this year with Jesse Tyler Ferguson playing a myriad of 40 characters, she knew who she wanted in the Ferguson role: DC fave Tom Story with Alan Paul as the show’s director.
“I had seen Jesse Tyler Ferguson do it this summer and he was wonderful, and Tom, I feel, is an equal to Jesse,” Paul says. “It’s a comic play and you need someone who is willing to go past good taste sometimes and someone who is free enough to be completely unselfconscious, and Tom is all those things.”
Paul, associate artistic director with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, may seem like an odd choice to be directing this one-man satire of the high-end Manhattan restaurant business. After all, he’s known for big-cast, lavish productions at STC and around D.C.
In the past few years, Paul has been the recipient of the 2014 Helen Hayes Award for Best Director of a Musical for STC’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, he also garnered two Helen Hayes nominations for Best Director for Man of La Mancha and Silence! The Musical.
“I’ve been trying to work with Carolyn for a long time and it’s never worked out because of timing, but when she called me in the spring about this show, I was very interested,” Paul says. “Tom and I are great friends, so I called him and we talked it over, and it just made sense.”
Fully Committed marks the sixth time Story and Paul have worked together.
“For me, it’s interesting because it’s a true potential tour-de-force for any actor because they have to physically play 40 characters and you need someone with the imagination and technical ability to pull that off,” Paul says. “Tom is someone who has that ability and skillset.”
Paul is actually no stranger to directing one-man shows. He helmed I Am My Own Wife at Signature Theatre back in 2011 with Andrew Long, and had a great experience.
“If I’m directing a musical with 25 people, I don’t have the opportunity to get as close to everyone, but with a one-man show, it’s just you and the actor, so that’s very fun for me,” he says. “Tom and I are able to switch off the friend mode and get into colleague mode, although we do have to stop ourselves from gossiping and wanting to sit around and talk, which is the hard part of it.”
December 8 – January 8, 2016
Details and tickets
Story and Paul first met in 2008 when the then-New York-based actor appeared in STC’s production of Twelfth Night, with Paul serving as assistant director.
“I got really confused and thought Tom was a local actor and lived in my neighborhood, so I asked him for a ride home,” Paul says. “He told me he didn’t live near me, but was happy to give me a ride back. We stopped and had a couple of drinks and we just became instant friends.”
The two worked together numerous times. Story was a replacement for Sarah Marshall’s Dr. Scott in Paul’s production of Rocky Horror at Studio Theater in 2012, and last year Story played Buffalo Bill in Silence! The Musical, also at Studio.
“We just have a great shorthand in working together,” Paul says. “We have a lot of shared professional time together, and a deep friendship and a shared passion for theater. It always means a lot to get to work together.”
That symbiosis has definitely come out during this production, the director shares.
“We have a lot of the same artistic taste and sensibilities and we tend to love the same things and hate the same things,” Paul says. “When we are in rehearsal, we tend to be on the same page aesthetically, so we haven’t really had any disagreements. It’s my job to make him look great and showcase everything special about Tom. The show depends on a virtuoso performance from a leading actor and a lot of invention in the show comes from both of us improvising what we think the characters are, and helping him find his way through.”
Story is starting to make a name for himself as an accomplished director—he’s even simultaneously directing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Adventure Theatre right now—so Paul notes he’s able to take criticism and outside feedback constructively.
“I think that comes from being a director and knowing what it means to be an outside observer to a performance,” he says. “What means one thing to an actor could mean something different to a director, and he understands that, so it makes it easy to work with.”
The story does take place at Christmas time, so Paul says there is a heartwarming aspect to it that audiences will enjoy. But most of all, seeing Story is the big draw here.
“There’s a real delight in seeing an actor you know do something virtuosic. Tom has a lot of fans in town and to see him do 40 really distinct characters in the course of 80 minutes is a big thing,” he says. “I expect audiences to have a good time and really laugh.”