Whether or not you believe Die Hard is a Christmas movie, I think we can all agree on one thing: it would be even better as a musical. As any good theater student will tell you, when words are not enough, you sing. And so it follows that if words and guns and helicopters aren’t enough, it’s time to break into an entire musical number. (This tip I offer freely to any interested aspiring Special Forces agents).
Written by Jeff Schell and Seattle-based comedy troupe The Habit, A Very Die Hard Christmas – The Stage Musical is both a parody of and a love letter to the original 1988 action film. Like the movie, A Very Die Hard Christmas follows NYPD Detective John McClane on a fateful trip to visit his estranged wife at her office holiday party. When German terrorists take over the building, it’s up to John to save the day. The musical’s Theatre 40 setting is just around the corner from Fox Plaza, the highrise immortalized as Nakatomi Plaza in the original film.
A Very Die Hard Christmas is by and for fans, setting out to poke nostalgic fun at the classic action movie. Running just an hour long, the show packs a punch and is a great addition to a night out in Beverly Hills. While this runtime may seem brief, I found it well-suited to the overt, hammy style of the parody. Stylistically over-the-top, A Very Die Hard Christmas is careful to not overstay its welcome, and such slapstick comedy lands well on a fresh audience.
The show is slightly slow to start and several scene changes disrupt the comedic flow and build of the program, but it picks up considerably once our dear-loved German antagonists introduce the main conflict. With choreography by Hisato Masuyama, the dance numbers are fun and humorous, mining visual gags wherever possible and never taking themselves too seriously (“I Need A Hero” is a particular highlight). I would’ve enjoyed slightly more dynamic and immersive blocking, especially during the group scenes, which occasionally became talking heads. Still, A Very Die Hard Christmas is far from visually boring, and the most entertaining scenes are fast-paced, both physically and in tempo.
A Very Die Hard Christmas is brought to life by a lively group of comedians. Lauren Samuels is particularly strong as Holly Genaro. Not only are her vocals fantastic, but she lends Holly a kind of vaguely aware self-absorbedness, particularly hysterical as she eats up applause and milks all her limelight moments. Roslyn Cohn and Nick Bredosky were also highly entertaining as the bumbling German henchmen of Hans Gruber, fully committing to a variety of physical gags (in more ways than one). Sean Cowhig portrays Hans Gruber and transforms the role into a kind of Dr. Doofenshmirtz-esque megavillain– goofy, fun, and very watchable. Niek Versteeg leads the show as the hardened, bloody, and musical John McClane.
With the exception of one song, all the musical numbers in A Very Die Hard Christmas are witty parodies of classic tunes, from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “My Way.” The clever songs are the most rewarding parts of the show; my personal favorite was a rendition of “Free Fallin” in the style of Hans Gruber (this piece is a stroke of genius). John McClane’s heroic ballad, aptly named “I’m John McClane,” is the only song original to the production and is available for streaming and purchase. The proceeds generated by the single are donated to NETA, an organization dedicated to supporting people with Aphasia and their families. On and off screen/stage, Mr. McClane continues his heroic legacy.
Director Sandro Monetti (who also contributed dialogue) refers to this show as a “Christmas postcard to Bruce Willis.” From the quick-witted writing to the enthusiastic performances to the charitable cause, the Die Hard team has crafted an honorable tribute. For a production filled to the brim with irreverent humor, it sure is rooted in respect.
A Very Die Hard Christmas – The Stage Musical is showing Sunday, December 17 and Wednesday, December 20th at 7:30 pm at Theatre Forty, 241 S. Moreno Drive in Beverly Hills. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased here.