All About Walken
nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
August 6, 2010
What is it about Christopher Walken? An Academy Award-winning actor with a formidable and far-ranging filmography (supposedly he'll only turn down a role if it does not fit into his schedule), he occupies a fascinating position of pop cultural obsession. Much like the similarly obsessed-over William Shatner, his peculiar, halting cadence seems to be almost a parody of itself, collapsing the joke and the man into a sort of postmodern celebrity singularity. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the army of imitators he has spawned. Virtually any comedian who has ever even contemplated doing a celebrity impersonation has a Walken up their sleeve. The music of his speech is so singularly recognizable that even terrible impersonations are immediately identifiable as such. It seems then to be a logical—perhaps necessary—conclusion to then produce a sketch and improv show populated by all Walken-impersonators.
All About Walken has arrived, fresh from a successful three-year run in Los Angeles, to fill precisely this niche. Under the leadership of creator-director-performer Patrick O'Sullivan, the cast consists of 15 wig-wearing Walken impersonators of various shapes, sizes, races, and genders. The show is a mix of sketch, improv, video, and a little song and dance all drawn from the life and works of Mr. Walken. Along the way he encounters a host of other impersonated celebrities like Jim Carrey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alec Baldwin, or a taxi-driving Robert De Niro. With such an enormous body of work, Walken seems as though he would provide fertile ground for comedy.
Unfortunately, however, the show fails to go beyond its basic premise of "Christopher Walken is funny" and falls victim to mixed performances and weak material. For a show that has been running three years, one would hope that the sketches would be audience-honed to a razor edge. In practice, though, the scenes felt under-developed and rarely go much further than their initial gags. Too often they end with an arbitrary turn to cheap, shock laughs (necrophilia, transvestites, etc).
The improvised section in the middle was equally disappointing. The game is for the Walkens to re-enact movies called out by the audience. While certainly good in theory, in practice it generally resulted in one or more of them assuming the main role as Walken and then just describing their circumstances. When multiple performers did engage with each other, the scenes never took off, staying mired in the type of solipsistic, laugh-line-driven comedy that is anathema to conventional improv wisdom of focusing entirely on one's partner.
Perhaps most disappointing is the amount of time devoted to re-enacting scenes from his movies. Line for line. Occasionally variations and deconstructions are applied, but far too much time is spent simply performing notable scenes from his films. Yes, his scene from Annie Hall as the suicidal brother is hilarious, but what more is gained by watching it as interpreted by Christopher Walken and Woody Allen impersonators than by watching the film itself?
Ultimately, All About Walken falls short of its promise. A too-heavy reliance on the gimmick's inherent comedic value combined with weak fundamentals leads to a largely forgettable evening. Perhaps a performer of such charisma as Walken necessarily resists being pinned down so easily. Beyond just a funny voice, there is something inarticulably magnetic about him (search for "Weapon of Choice" on YouTube and see for yourself). Unfortunately, All About Walken fails to capture it.