NYPD’s John McClane is back in town to foil dastardly Hans Gruber’s armed band of Teutonic terrorists’ plan to steal $640 million in bearer bonds from L.A.’s towering Nakatomi Plaza as Theatre Unleashed reprises last December’s A Very Die Hard Christmas, Josh Carson’s hit musical spoof of a certain Bruce Willis holiday classic.

Hot-as-blazes Wade F. Wilson returns as fearless John McClane opposite cast newbie Josef Knauber’s dastardly Hans Gruber, with Robby DeVillez, Twon Pope, and Mark Lopez as bungling henchmen Schnell, Douche, and Karl, and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’s folksy Snowman as both narrator and John’s LAPD ally Sgt. Al Powell.

Pope doubles as McClane’s driver Argyle, blissfully unaware of the events unfolding high above him on the 30th floor, where Christmas Eve partygoers include John’s estranged wife Holly Gennaro (Kiré Horton), her pregnant coworker Ginny (Liesl Jackson), coke-snorting junior exec Linus (DeVillez), and a quickly dispatched CEO Mr. Takagi (an unsuspecting audience member recruited nightly because “someone forgot to cast the role”).

Additional terrorists get brought to life by sock puppet Feivel from An American Tail, a Hermie The Elf doll from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, a life-sized Yukon Cornelius (Lopez) from the same TV special, and none other than Jimmy Stewart (Spencer Cantrell, stepping over from TU’s concurrently running It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play), whose arrival atop Sgt. Al’s squad car finally convinces the sarge that John McClane is no crackpot.

Adding to the fun are musical takeoffs on nearly a dozen holiday favorites including Holly’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (“I am out here on my own with a Spanish nanny till the kids are grown”), the terrorist trio’s harmonizing to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Song” ( “Me, I want to slit a throat”), and a full-cast “Snow Miser Song” from The Year Without a Santa Claus (“He’s Mr. Hans Gruber, and he’s in charge. Although he’s West German, he sounds British by in large.”)

Gregory Crafts once again directs with freewheeling glee, a number of performers proving particular standouts—Pope’s sassy Argyle, swishy Douche, and slick TV reporter Thornberg; DeVillez’s holly-jolly Al, hyper Linus, hip German Schnell, and hand-puppety Theo and Hermy; and Jackson’s dippy delight of a Ginny, Pippi delight of a Lucy McClane, and trippy delight of a police dispatcher. (“Oh my God, you’re the worst!”)

Knauber’s dastardly Hans and Horton’s big-haired Holly pay amusing tribute to Die Hard’s Alan Rickman and Bonnie Bedelia (and Cantrell to It’s A Wonderful Life’s George Bailey), and Lopez proves far and away the evening’s vocal standout as Karl in addition to his fun turn as a grizzly Yukon Cornelius.

Still, it’s Star-Making Performance Scenie winner Wilson who had this reviewer going back for more Die Hard this year, his “Black Irish” John fighting evil with even more sex-appeal and pluck the second time around.

 Since much of Die Hard takes place on the unfinished floors of the Nakatomi Plaza, a stripped-down dry-wall set (Ann Hurd is scenic painter) featuring a few folding chairs and tables does the budget-conscious trick quite nicely indeed.

Aaron Lyon’s sound design effectively integrates dramatic musical underscoring, multiple effects (including gunshots galore), and karaoke tracks. Brandie June’s costumes and Luis Ramirez’s wigs pay tribute to the movie original’s ‘80s styles. Craft’s lighting is first-rate as well.

Fight sequences choreographed by J. Anthony McCarthy, Sean Fitzgerald, and Wilson add to the excitement, one in particular (a doll-on-man confrontation) earning huge laughs. (“A million terrorists in the world and I had to go kill one with feet smaller than anything.”)

Technical director Mark Bell delivers deliciously low-tech special effects including copious exploding confetti and Brad Upton has designed some delightful puppets.

Also contributing to the production are musical director Tony Gonzalez and choreographer Lindsay Braverman. Matthew Martin is stage manager.

I wrote last year that A Very Die Hard Christmas could well become an annual cult holiday hit for Theatre Unleashed. If last night’s sold-out crowd was any indication, I’d say I was right.

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The Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 20, 2106


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