A Very Die Hard Christmas, Josh Carson’s hit musical spoof of a certain Bruce Willis holiday classic, is back for 2017, sharper, funnier, and more outrageous than ever, and just what Santa ordered for those who like their year-end festivities to be naughty rather than nice.

Star-Making Performance Scenie winner Wade Wilson is back at Theatre Unleashed as well (thank you Saint Nick!) as NYPD’s John McClane, bound and determined to foil dastardly Hans Gruber (Jim Martyka) and his armed band of Teutonic terrorists (Carey Matthews, Matt Pick, and Robby DeVillez as Douche, Karl, and Schnell) in their plan to steal $640 million in bearer bonds from L.A.’s towering Nakatomi Plaza. (If you haven’t seen the 1988 action movie smash that started the franchise, Netflix it tout de suite to double your Very Die Hard Christmas fun.)

Serving as our narrator is portly, life-sized puppet Al the Snowman* (DeVillez), whose “It’s A Very Die Hard Christmas” (sung to the tune of “Holly Jolly Xmas”) warns the audience in advance that “it’s rated R, they go too far, and your mom might get pissed.”

Matthews 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 (yours truly stepping in at the performance reviewed because “someone forgot to cast the role”).

Aiding and abetting the Hans Gruber Gang are Theo (DeVillez, sock-puppet mouse on hand), a toe-headed Elf (DeVillez, manipulating a miniature Hermie*), Yukon Cornelius* (a full-sized Pick), and none other than Jimmy Stewart himself (Matthews, who doubles as George Bailey in the concurrently running It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play).

Adding to the fun are musical takeoffs on nearly a dozen holiday favorites including Holly’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” the terrorist trio’s harmonizing to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Song,” 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.”), and if only Pick has veritable musical theater pipes, you’ll be laughing so hard, you won’t mind an occasional off note or two or three with musical director Luis “Tony” Gonzalez making the most of what his cast has got. (The company may not be trained dancers either, but Lindsay Anne Braverman knows how to choreograph to their strengths in one delicious production number after another.)

Unlike 2015’s A Very Die Hard Christmas 1.0 (about which I wrote that “there are moments the show could benefit from greater precision”), Version 3.0 is even sharper than last year’s new-improved version under Gregory Crafts’ better-than-ever direction.

Rising star Wilson is even funnier, sexier, and more dauntless than in years past as “Black Irish” John, a whiz at talk-singing, and one hell of a fist-to-fist combatant with J. Anthony McCarthy choreographing some of the most realistic stage fighting I’ve seen.

Powerhouse cast newcomer Matthews delivers a quartet of scene-stealing turns as Argyle, Douche, Thornburg, and Jimmy, a feat made ever more noteworthy by the fact that he joined the production only a week before Opening Night.

2.0 returnee DeVillez proves himself not only a top-notch puppeteer as holly-jolly Al, sassy Theo, and feisty Hermy (kudos to puppet builder Bradley Upton) but also a cocky, coke-snorting Linus and a terroristic treat as bungling, vocabulary-challenged Schnell .

 The ab-fab Horton is back for her second year too as a spot-on, big-haired, big-voiced Holly, Jackson is once again delightfully dippy as Ginny in addition to delectable cameos as a Pippi Longstocking-wigged Lucy McClane and a dumber-than-dumb police dispatcher, and newbee Pick has Karl and Yukon stealing scenes right and left with his platinum-blond heavy-metal locks and operatic baritone.

 Most sensational of all is Martkya’s masterful take on Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman-eque enough to satisfy Die Hard purists while making the cunning, conniving, cold-hearted creep his inspired own.

Since much of Die Hard takes place on the unfinished floors of the Nakatomi Plaza, Ann Hurd’s stripped-down dry-wall set and its handful of folding chairs and tables does the budget-conscious trick quite nicely indeed.

Aaron Lyon’s sound design neatly integrates dramatic musical underscoring, multiple effects (including gunshots galore), and karaoke tracks.

Jessica J’aime’s costumes and Luis Ramirez’s wigs pay amusing tribute to the movie original’s ‘80s style, Craft’s striking lighting merits its own kudos, and Mark Bell’s special effects are as inventive as can be.

Beth Scorzato is stage manager.

I went wild for Theatre Unleashed’s very first A Very Die Hard Christmas two Decembers back, so much so that I’ve returned twice since then and if the production gets a 2018 revival, I’ll be back for still more. It’s the most free-wheeling fun you’ll have all holiday season.

*popping over from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the 1964 Christmas stop-motion animated television special

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

–Steven Stanley
December 6, 2017
Photos:   SoCal Studios


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