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Who Killed Woody Allen?

The conceit of Who Killed Woody Allen? is pretty much summed up in the play's title. A gaggle of celebrities have gathered together for the funeral of their beloved friend and colleague Woody Allen (who, in the real world, is still very much alive) but, shortly after the Academy Awards-like wake has begun, a police detective arrives to inform the group that Allen did not die of natural causes but was murdered! And, yes -- they are all suspects.

The show is like an Agatha Christie murder mystery involving Hollywood bigs. From the moment that the evening's host, Billy Crystal (Christopher Wisner), breaks out into his opening medley ("Burial tomorrow, funeral tonight!"), it's pretty much non-stop fun. The major caveat is that you have to have a certain appreciation for and knowledge of movie stars and other celebs, particularly those who have been affiliated with Allen at one time or another. The antics, self-obsessions, and relationships of these people provide comic fodder for the satire.

The play's authors -- Dan Callahan, Brendan Connor, and Tom Dunn -- have smartly thrown together famous folks that cover the gamut of celebrity. There's Leonardo DiCaprio (a far-from-typecast Brendan Connor), Allen regulars Alan Alda (Ed Moran) and Dianne Wiest (Linda Kreis), former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy (Doug McInnis) and avid Knicks fan Spike Lee (Kola Ogundiran), "mediocre" actor-auteur Ed Burns (Michael Friedman), Annie Hall herself in the person of Diane Keaton (JillAnn Dugan), and everyone's favorite weirdo, Christopher Walken (Peter Loureiro). In case these aren't enough to keep our interest, a few other celebrities crash the "party" later on.

Since Who Killed Woody Allen? is more about skewering Hollywood than about Woody Allen (the Soon-Yi and Mia jokes are few, though funny), it's important that the impersonations be good. And while some of these actors are not celebrity look-a-likes, most of them get their characters across with skill. Carter Roy is especially impressive as John Cusack, who acts as a narrator of the event; Roy nails Cusack's expressions, which can't have been easy, given that Cusack is often thought of as a regular-guy-next-door type. Loureiro has an easier task with the ever odd Walken (he even looks like him) but is nonetheless worthy of praise, since he's absolutely hilarious. Wisner's physical appearance only hints at Billy Crystal, but he does a wonderful job of evoking the comedian even while -- thank God! -- avoiding imitation of Crystal's more annoying characters.

Everyone is trying to figure out
Who Killed Woody Allen?
A good share of the humor also comes out of the writers' handling of the stars' interpersonal relationships. Leo develops a crush on Diane Keaton, Jeff Van Gundy and Spike have a peculiar co-dependent relationship, and Ed Burns burns to be the next Woody Allen. John Mooney, Gary Solomon, and Shaun Sheley -- playing the "special guest" celebrities that eventualy turn up -- offer takes that are more like riffs on their characters than actual impersonations, and this makes them all the more amusing.

There are rough spots in the proceedings; some of the individual interrogations led by Jon Shaver's Detective John Allman get a little dull. It's the dynamic of the whole group working together that makes the show entertaining. The cast is uniformly strong, though Ed Moran just can't quite seem to get the right voice inflections for Alan Alda. And Gabriella Sacci, who looks an awful lot like Mira Sorvino -- co-star of Allen's Mighty Aphrodite -- is unfortunately stuck playing the only non-celebrity guest: Leo's ditzy squeeze, Shannon.

Writer Dunn also directs the show and deserves a big pat on the back for maneuvering his huge cast around the modest-sized stage of the Triad, which is more a cabaret space than a theater. Accordingly, there is a two-drink minimum.

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