by CJ Burroughs | Buzz Center Stage | Dec. 8, 2018

In the time I’ve been reviewing theater for this revered publication, I’ve often found myself quietly judging minutiae that’s occurred in productions that coincidentally share personal interests or obsessions of mine. While watching wonderful takes on the Buddy Holly Story or Roger Miller’s Broadway show, Big River, I’ve had to stop myself from critiquing changes made to increase a show’s entertainment and that only offend geeks like me. In a recent example of a show I was not there to review, my wife — as we sat together on a rare date to watch the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody — I was told to stop with comments such as “‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ hadn’t even been written at this point in Queen’s career!”

So, when I entered the Den Theatre to see their holiday musical parody of that Christmas classic, Die Hard, I worried that my personal obsession with said film might color my enjoyment of the show at hand. Thankfully, for you the reader and for the wonderful and enthusiastic cast who are performing Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas from now through January 12, I walked out of opening night with a smile on my face and a spring in my (barefooted and broken-glass-encrusted) step. This show is not only that much fun, but is both enjoyable for the fair-weather fan of the film franchise or those of us who have watched the series’ initial installment (and perhaps some or all of the others) way too many times.

Don’t get me wrong…this is not a careful reenactment of NYPD Detective John McClane’s bloody Christmas Eve high in an LA skyscraper 30 years ago. Instead, it’s an often smart and always smiling holiday sendup of the movie’s most memorable characters, quotes, and moments — all of them done with love, with enthusiasm, and with good humor.

We begin with Bill Gordon as “Bruce McClane” — already barefooted, always sucking down a Marlboro Red, ever reminding us that he’s a hardened New York City cop in California for Christmas and to save his marriage. Gordon’s plays the same gruff everyman that Bruce Willis created in 1988, overplaying it to comic effect. And the same as three decades ago, Caitlyn Cerza’s “Holly Generic” is Bruce’s glass-ceiling-breaking, fax-sending, shoulder-padded-blazer-wearing wife — with her determination to make it in this man’s world no less a point made, even as it makes us chuckle, than it was back then.

The third main character, also defined by the outfit he wears, is Gary Fields’ take on Alan Rickman’s timeless villain, Hans Gruber. The character is renamed here, for the kind of kitschy comic effect that this play’s full of, to poke fun at the overall movie culture of those fondly remembered decades. Fields’ overdone British-doing-German-terrorist accent, his sleek suit (“John Phillips, London,” he reminds us, ad nauseam), and his overall regal ghoulishness not only honor the late Rickman’s genius, but show what fun the original performance was and what an impact it has had on our pop-culture consciousness.

But while the three main characters ground the musical, it’s the rest of the cast (and their songs and shenanigans) that let it take flight. Above, I used the term “enthusiastic” a time or two already. And that’s the word that keeps coming back to me as I remember what I saw on the Den Theatre stage. The cast does show, as so many casts on Chicago stages do, what talent we have in this city of ours. But even more so, the members of this cast show how funny, and how game, our Windy City thespians can be.

I wondered what fun the show might have with Reginald VelJohnson’s Sergeant Al Powell, and I wasn’t disappointed. Terrance Lamonte Jr. plays the character christened “Carl Winslow” (a callout to VelJohnson’s most famous role, and one more bit of pop-culture geekery for the geeks in the crowd), and while he’s fun and funny throughout, it’s a 70s sex jam early on that he sings to a beloved snack cake that brings the house down.

Jenna Steege also steals the show as the movie’s sleezy, mustached cokehead character. Her moment to snort and shine comes with a gospel performance paying tribute to her drug of choice, with powder a-flying, choir a-clapping, tambourines a-clanging and things getting way out of hand in the best way possible.

Nate Curlott as an FBI agent has what could also be the show’s stopper, a boisterous anthem of patriotism, beer, and machismo. And Jin Kim’s Nakatomi landed joke after joke about 80s gamer culture, leaving my gamer brother-in-law who accompanied me nearly on the floor.

But the MVP of this musical is surely Erin Long as tow-headed terrorist siblings, Klaus and Tony. As Klaus, Long is a bundle of constant movement, clever asides, and manic humor. But it’s an early tap-dancing number as Tony where she shows she’s an all-around entertainer.

Again, if you love the movie Die Hard as much as I do, you will love this smart and sassy sendup of it. But if you just want to, in the words of McClane, “Come out to the coast…get together…have a few laughs,” then Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas is also the hilarious holiday play for you. At Den Theatre through January 12, 2019.