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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
|Yippee Productions presents|
|Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas!
A Die Hard Musical Parody
Review by Lauren Emily Whalen
How does anyone write a Die Hard parody without the air vent?
The 1988 action thriller is full of iconic moments, but perhaps the most of all is when Bruce Willis’ character, NYPD cop John McClane, crawls through an air vent. The moment is so iconic, in fact, it’s now a Christmas ornament. Yet aside from a brief mention at the beginning, no air vents are present in Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody. A budgetary issue? Perhaps, but the production makes liberal use of low-budget substitutes like remote control police cars, toy assault rifles, and actors who play multiple roles. So why no air vent?
Sadly, this glaring omission is only one symptom of Yippee Ki-Yay‘s inherent laziness. Once a hit at the MCL comedy venue in Lakeview, its bigger-budget expanded version is thoroughly underwhelming. Rather than milk the original film for all it’s worth (and that’s a lot), writing team Michael Shepherd Jordan, Alex Garday and Stephanie McCullough make the show a grab bag of 80’s references, some of which are clearly missed by the show’s millennial target audience. Solid parody is more difficult than it seems, and Yippee Ki-Yay‘s mediocre book and score, coupled with wishy-washy direction and a struggling lead actor, show that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Die Hard the film was groundbreaking in many ways. It launched Bruce Willis, previously a sitcom star, into A-list stardom. It established the career of the late British actor Alan Rickman as the go-to creepy guy – which would pay off handsomely in the early aughts, when he was cast as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movie franchise. Moreover, Die Hard is held up as the perfect screenplay in at least one how-to guide on writing for movies. The story hits all the right beats and is very tightly-paced. The characterization is clear, and everyone has an objective. It’s led to numerous sequels, a reboot, and well-known quotes like, “welcome to the party, pal!”
So why is Yippee Ki-Yay such a mess?
The aforementioned plethora of 80’s pop culture references is one reason. Naming the beat cop character Carl Winslow (in honor of actor Reginald VelJohnson’s ensuing long-term gig on the sitcom Family Matters) makes sense. Making one or two Nintendo jokes when Japanese boss Nakotomi has to die over 30 times, does as well (though that joke gets repetitive after the first ten utterances). But having a Terminator cameo that, in the spirit of the production, drags on way too long, is simply unnecessary, as is Theo Huxtable as one of the terrorists. Most of the audience when I was present clearly had no idea who Theo Huxtable was. Also, no jokes about the character’s friend bringing a gun to school (one of his main storylines on The Cosby Show). Speaking of which, no Bill Cosby jokes. None. When a character from his show was onstage for most of the 90 minutes.
With the exception of three songs, Yippee Ki-Yay‘s score is so unmemorable that the action grinds to a halt every time the keyboard sounds. No one remembers McClane’s (Bill Gordon) estranged wife, Holly (played here by Caitlyn Cerza), even though her hijacked office holiday party is the reason McClane’s in this mess in the first place. With that in mind, we really don’t need a whole production number about how tough it is to be a “lady in the 80’s”. Only terrorist leader Hans’s (Gary Fields) musical ode to fashion, Officer Winslow’s (Terrance LaMonte Jr.) sexual ballad about Twinkies and the hypermasculine American jam of FBI Johnson (Nate Curlott) are in any way entertaining – and that’s more because the actors sell the heck out of them.
Tiffani Moore Swalley‘s direction is just as confused as the writing. The 90-minute run time feels twice as long, and very few opportunities for creative staging are taken. (One notable exception, an extended wrestling sequence with McClane and a My Buddy doll masquerading as a terrorist, is due to Gordon, who choreographed the fight he performs.)
As well as the doll-fight, several performances stand out. Erin Long‘s turn as dumb terrorist sidekick Klaus is borderline genius, thanks to Long’s perfect balance between comedic timing and reckless physicality (both reminiscent of Amy Poehler, whom Long resembles). Both Curlott’s gung-ho patriotism and LaMonte’s wistful longing for a friend in McClane show that the actors are both intimately familiar with parody and willing to go all the way with it. Fields absolutely steals the show as suit-wearing, debonair Hans, relishing his villainy and taste in terrorist-wear.
These hilarious actors almost (but don’t quite) make up for Gordon’s lackluster interpretation of Willis’s most memorable character. Gordon delivers all his dialogue in a monotone growl, completely disregarding Willis’s very specific, mumbling cadence. A spot-on impersonation isn’t necessary (often in parody it’s downright boring), but I wish Gordon and director Swalley had made a character choice. Some choice. Any choice. Overall, Yippee Ki-Yay isn’t worth your money or time. Just stay home and watch the new Brooklyn Nine-Nine promo ad, which in one minute does a much better job of sending up Die Hard. And it has nothing to do with budget.
Yippee Ki-Yah Merry Christmas! continues through January 12th at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $45, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at YippeeTheMusical.com. (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Michael Shepherd Jordan
Bill Gordon (Bruce McClane), Gary Fields (Hans Olo), Caitlyn Cerza (Holly Generic), Terrance LaMonte Jr. (Carl Winslow), Erin Long (Terrorist Klaus, Terrorist Tony), Ashley Geron (Deputy Chief Dwayne), Jenna Steege (Willis), Jin Kim (Nakotomi), Jonathan Allsop (Fabrique, Theo), Nate Curlott (FBI Johnson), Alex DiVirgilio (Arnold)
Understudies: Duane Deering, Susan Glynn, Nate Hall, Lauren Kincaid, Josh Morris, Chris Pow, Esh Ryans, Nicole Stull
Stephanie McCullough (keyboards), Paul Desman (guitar), Aaron Homard (drums)
behind the scenes
Tiffani Moore Swalley (director), Stephanie McCullough (music director), Sheena Laird (choreographer), Eric Luchen (scenic design), Lindsey Lyddan (lighting design), Brandon Reed (sound design), Katelyn Downing (costume, prop design), Bill Gordon (fight choreographer), Fredo Aguilar (technical director), Sara Savusa (assistant director, dance captain), Daniella Mazzio (stage manager, lighting engineer), Stefan Carlson (assistant stage manager), Warren Jackson (sound engineer), Christopher Wegner (production assistant), Ray Nardelli (sound consultant), Adell Medovoy (graphic designer), Robbie Ellis (copyist & keyboards), Carolyn Cake (sound engineer), Seagull Works (scenic construction, installation), Drew Desantis, Jim Jensen, Mark Michelson (producers), Michael Shepherd Jordan (photos)