“If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!” - Die Hard (1988)
Seattle Public Theater’s A Very Die Hard Christmas turns the renowned action movie into a modern comedy that’s packed with water guns, on-point German accents, and plenty of jokes breaking the fourth wall. The actors interact with the crowd regularly throughout the show with nerf bullets, super soakers, and snarky stares, creating a memorably intimate atmosphere in the theater. This show was a hoot and had the audience in hysterics, but if you haven’t watched the movie, watching this musical will be like reading a book series out of order: you’ll understand some basics, but it’s so much better if you don’t have to try and figure out what’s going on, and can simply appreciate their take on the movie.
As with Die Hard, the story of A Very Die Hard Christmas starts off with John McClane (played by understudy Mark Fox on the day I saw the show) flying to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife, Holly Gennaro (Helen Roundhill), and their kids for Christmas. However, shortly after he shows up to Holly’s Christmas work party at Nakatomi Plaza, German mastermind Hans Gruber (Rebecca Olson) and his gang of terrorists take over the building and hold all the party guests hostage, except for John, who realizes it’s his job to stop the terrorists and save Christmas. He and police officer Sergeant Al (Bob Williams) bond through walkie talkie conversations as John outwits the terrorists and eventually leads them straight to the police.
What I found interesting was that while most musicals tell their story through a series of songs, A Very Die Hard Christmas opts for parodies of hit ‘80s songs (e.g. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor) splashed in between witty dialogue and action. These songs tell less of a story and instead add a touch of humor.
Written by the genius sketch writers from The Habit, the dialogue never stops for an awkward pause. The use of the stage space was excellent, even though it was much smaller than traditional stages; the action-packed musical made it feel big with the use of props such as a police car door, pool-noodles, and a frequently appearing office chair. They also utilized an actor called The Fixer (understudy Valerie Ryan Miller) who acted as a set piece, and while the concept isn’t new, having a person act as a pair of revolving doors only added to the humor found in each scene.
Though there was only a small cast of twelve, each actor seemed to fit their role like a glove. Fox, the understudy for John McClane, gave a wonderful performance, giving sharp glares and playing up the “New York Cop” personality to its fullest. His timing was impeccable and his use of body language made him seem all the more like the movie character we’ve come to love. Despite The Fixer’s somewhat odd role in the musical, Miller filled it perfectly. Because A Very Die Hard Christmas is a musical, it’s not surprising that there are more than a few exceptionally talented singers, especially Helen Roundhill who plays Holly Gennaro. In the song “Come Out to the Coast,” a loving letter asking McClane to come visit her and the kids in Los Angeles, her voice is rich and full of emotion as she pleads to John.
When I first walked into Seattle Public Theater, I was struck by how simple yet easily identifiable the set was, with a Los Angeles city skyline printed on fabric as the background, and a band situated just in view on stage left. The stage was shallow and close to the audience, giving the actors access to the stairs, which they would use quite often during the performance.
Director Mark Riano has acknowledged that the props and set were not the most sophisticated, and there is a line in the show poking fun at the use of water pistols as guns: “Water is fatal in this universe!”. A wounded actor then falls backward into an office chair in slow motion, where The Fixer wheels them, acting as the force of gravity. This unusual embrace of absurdity gave A Very Die Hard Christmas a modern twist without changing the plot or even the spirit at the heart of the movie.
The production is a different take on Die Hard, but the writers include many recognizable lines and scenes in the musical that make it feel all the more like the real deal. When John McClane packs for Los Angeles, he stuffs three white tank tops into his suitcase, which the audience can easily recognize as his never-changing outfit for the entirety of the story. The show felt faster paced than the movie and skips over a lot of little details such as the character of Argyle and Hans Gruber’s tragic death as he falls through a glass pane to his death. However, these cuts don’t necessarily make the musical seem like it’s missing something and allow the show to run for only 90 minutes compared to the movie’s 132.
A Very Die Hard Christmas is a must-watch for fans of the movie, and while it may not follow the guidelines of your average musical, I think that adds to its charm. I would definitely say that some of the content is for more mature audiences, but that being said, it’s very much still worth a watch (or even two). If you’re looking for shows to lift your spirits and get you in the mood for the holidays, A Very Die Hard Christmas should be on your list.
A Very Die Hard Christmas took place at Seattle Public Theater on November 25 - December 20, 2022. For more information see here.