- By Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association; photo by Michael Shepherd Jordan
There are some out there (including yours truly) who consider Die Hard one of the quintessential Christmas movies. You know who you are: you watch it every year at this time, cheering on Jack McClane as he single-handedly takes down an entire terrorist cell on his way to seeing his wife and kids for the holidays. What could be more American? What could be more of a statement of love and holiday cheer? Well, a group calling itself Yippee Productions has now put together a musical parody of Die Hard called Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas, and the good news is that it is very funny and clever while being very faithful to the film.
As fans already know (and why would you be seeing this if you’re not a fan?): Jack McClane is a grizzled NYC cop (played by Bruce Willis in the film) whose wife has moved to CA with the kids to take a new job. She’s a high-ranking official with the Nakatomi Corporation, and McLane’s first stop on his way to see his family is the office Christmas party (which seems just the thing for a grizzled NYC cop). He happens to arrive just as a German terrorist named Hans has just taken over the party—and the building—on a mission to steal hundreds of millions in bearer bonds. From there it’s a game of cat and mouse as McClane takes on and eliminates one terrorist at a time through machine gun blasts, C4 explosions, and broken glass. Lots of broken glass.
That is precisely the plot of Yippee Ka-Yay, which takes its name (in case you don’t know, and again: why would you be reading this if you don’t?) from a line that McClane says in the film (and here), “Yippee Ka-Yay, Mother-f*****s,” as he is dispatching with more terrorists. It’s a very silly play full of extreme characters, 80s references, absurdity, and, yes, music and dance, a lot of which is quite good. I mean we’re not talking the Joffrey or Broadway here, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless.
Bill Gordon stars as Bruce McClane, who actually uses the word “grizzled” describing himself. (There is also a character named Willis (Jenna Steege), so Bruce Willis jokes are bound to happen. “Family Matters” jokes as well.) Gordon, putting on his best Willis growl, has a wild time chasing after and hiding from terrorists all night, rolling behind furniture, diving low on a balcony, hiding behind pillars, etc. in an effort to catch Hans Olo (Gary Fields), the extremely well-dressed leader of the group. Fields too has an, um, field day playing this fashion-conscious villain who is trying to control a group of dimwitted and trigger-happy flunkies (among which is a My Buddy doll and Erin Long, playing a totally dense Klaus).
Outside, we meet the Twinkie-eating cop Carl (Terrance LaMonte, Jr) with whom McClane strikes up a friendship via a walkie-talkie he’s taken from a dead terrorist. (LaMonte’s Twinkie song is a highlight.) In addition to Carl, McClane has to deal with an utterly stupid deputy chief of police (Ashley Geron) and a hyperactive FBI agent (Nate Curlott) who seems to think he’s in an action movie. (Well, he is, but you know what I mean.) In addition, an old friend from other 80s action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Alex Divirgilio), shows up to lend a hand to the outmanned McClane.
Within the building, McClane’s wife (who calls herself Holly Generic and is played by Caitlyn Cerza) is trying to hold things together after her boss, Nintendo Nakatomi (Jin Kim) is taken to the vault by master lock-breaker Theo (Jonathan Allsop, who also plays McClane’s limo driver). Cerza’s song, “Lady of the 80s,” which comes before the chaos, is an “I Am Woman” empowerment song that, though very funny and well done, is unfortunately also a reminder of how far women still have to go thirty years later.
Michael Shepherd Jordan’s book and lyrics are very clever, though some of the jokes don’t land and some scenes just sort of wither in the vine. (He’s better at writing fun scenes than ending them.) Tiffany Moore Swalley directs with an obvious love for the original film and an aggressive sense of comic swagger. The fight scene between Gordon and the My Buddy doll—you read that right—is a complete classic. Practically any scene with Klaus (or his twin brother, Terrorist Tony, is a gem. Willis is an annoying cocaine addict (his song about it is hilarious) who is brilliantly overplayed by Steege, and in general the staging is top notch. It’s pretty clear that this show is “everything including the kitchen sink”: if they had an idea they threw it in. Many of them work wonderfully, some don’t, but there are just so many that laughter abounds.
Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas is the Die Hard musical parody you didn’t know you needed. If you’re tired of Nutcrackers and Christmas Carols and other more traditional holiday fare, check it out. It’s a ton of fun and a great diversion from the mainstream. It isn’t for kids, but then the movie was rated R, so why would kids be watching?
Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas is now playing at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee, Chicago until Jan 12. Check the website for specific dates, times, and tickets. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and at theatreinchicago.com.