Tuesday, December 3, 2019

"A Very Die Hard Christmas" at Bryant Lake Bowl

I've never seen the popular 1988 action movie Die Hard, so for years I resisted seeing what has become an insanely popular holiday* tradition - A Very Die Hard Christmas at Bryant Lake Bowl (the 10pm showtime also kept me away). But this year, I finally had to see what everyone was raving about, especially since they added a few 8pm shows for us morning people. I'm still not sure I understand why it's so popular (this year they sold out the entire run before they even opened), but it is a super fun show chock full of pop culture references (of the '80s and Christmas varieties), with very funny performances by the cast. I've never seen such a packed and enthusiastic BLB audience. People love the show, and the team loves doing it, and I guess that's what makes it such a popular and long-standing tradition.

This is the eighth year of A Very Die Hard Christmas, written by Josh Carson, Andy Rocco Kraft, and Brad Erickson. If you've seen any of their Fringe shows (e.g., this year's Mad as Nell, or How to Lose a Bly in Ten Days or last year's A Justice League of Their Own), you'll be familiar with the sort of pop culture mash-up format of the show, into which they shove as many jokes and references as they possibly can. While the story roughly follows the movie, there are also references to other beloved Christmas movies and TV shows, most notably Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but also A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt's A Wonderful Life, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and even the Chipmunks. So while I didn't get all of the references or jokes, there were plenty that I did get, being a child of the '70s and '80s, and it was sort of fun discovering the plot of the movie through this warped version of it.

And the plot basically is that a NYC cop saves a bunch of hostages, including his estranged wife, from German terrorists who have taken over an office building in L.A. On Christmas Eve, which is what makes this a Christmas movie. Or is it an action movie that takes place on Christmas? Let's not get into it.

the cast of A Very Die Hard Christmas
(photo courtesy of Josh Carson's Facebook page)
This cast, some of whom have been with the show since the beginning, is having a lot of fun with the show, with a bit of room for improv and playfulness with the audience (prepare to be heckled if you're sitting near the front). Josh Carson plays the cop hero McClane (the Bruce Willis role) with a haggard tough guy bravado, and ever more fake blood dripping down his face and soaking his white tank top. Matt Sciple does a pretty brilliant Alan Rickman impression as the big bad guy. Brad Erickson (who also directs) also gets to do some fun impressions, from Jimmy Stewart to Yukon Cornelius. Andy Rocco Kraft plays the most roles, all ridiculous and funny, several involving puppets, from Hermey to a Snowcop to a coke-addicted jerk of an '80s stereotype. Duck Washington also plays multiple roles, my favorite being Argyle the limo driver, who seems to be just hanging around outside. The only two women in this male dominated '80s action movie are Anna Weggel (as McClane's wife) and Leslie Vincent (as a very pregnant office worker), adding a much needed female presence and lovely vocals (or intental bad singing). For like any good Christmas special, this show has music - spoofs of Christmas songs from "Baby It's Cold Outside" to "Where Are You Christmas" to "All I Want for Christmas is You."

Every night, a surprise Santa saves the day, usually a well-known face from the #TCTheater and/or #TCComedy world. On the night I saw the show it was Lauren Anderson, whose sketch comedy show Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide at Brave New Workshop is not sold out and is also part of a popular and very funny holiday tradition.

As it turns out, A Very Die Hard Christmas is a loving and irreverent spoof of not just that one movie, but also all those childhood Christmas movies, TV shows, and songs that we love (even if they annoy us a little too). OK, maybe I do understand why this show is so popular. And maybe I will go back and see it every year. But first I want to watch the movie, to see what it is that inspired all of this.

*Click here to read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.