Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? This long-debated question receives a defiant answer in Richard Marsh's Yippee Ki Yay – The Die Hard Parody!, a rollicking retelling of the beloved classic action film that runs at the Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex from Wednesday, December 6, through December 23.
Marsh, a London slam-poetry champion and winner of Fringe First, has long been a fan of Die Hard. The movie centers New York City police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis), who arrives in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve with the intention of meeting up with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), at a holiday party hosted by the Nakatomi Corporation, where she works. But when Hans Gruber — a German radical played to perfection by Alan Rickman — and his merry band of thugs stage a terrorist attack on the building, McClane has to crawl through vents, duck bullets and deliver sassy one-liners to save the day.
"I am very much part of the fan base, so I wrote the play I’d want to see as a fan of the movie," Marsh explains. "It’s a celebration of the movie, telling the story of Die Hard interspersed with the tale of two Die Hard fans and their journey through life. In writing the play, I reflected on how my relationship with Die Hard has changed as I’ve gotten older. When I first saw the film on VHS, too young for an [R-rated] movie, I saw it as a hero kicking ass. Rewatching it now, in midlife, with children of my own, it’s clearly about a married couple trying to reunite despite their differences. I’m trying to retell the movie I’m a fan of while also capturing the experience of being a fan of that movie; one story takes one night and the other a lifetime."
"I wanted to celebrate life and make the audience laugh their asses off," he says. "I realized it was time for something I’d been musing on for years. Ever since I started doing poetry, I’d dreamt of telling the seemingly most un-poetry-able story via poetry. What seems like the opposite of poetry? An action movie. What’s the greatest action movie? Obviously, Die Hard."
The parody, which has already garnered rave reviews following its 2022 Edinburgh Fringe premiere and 2023 U.K. tour, is, as Marsh describes, "an unauthorized homage" to the festive favorite. It artfully balances comedy, action and a surprising emotional depth as it blasts through the tale of John McClane's one-man mission to save hostages in an L.A. skyscraper. The biggest challenge for Marsh was figuring out what to cut out of the movie to make it fit within a reasonable run time.
"I worked on the basis that if John doesn’t talk to someone directly, they’re not in the show," Marsh says. "In terms of paying homage, I knew I wanted to show all the movie’s big action sequences in the play. That was one of the most fun challenges that I, the director Hal Chambers and movement and associate director Emma Webb faced — how to show these huge set pieces with just one actor on a stage. I’m very lucky I had these great collaborators, because what we’ve produced together is an absolute delight to perform, and it seems (from the audience reaction and reviews) to be a huge pleasure to watch."
Steven E. de Souza, one of the original screenwriters of Die Hard. He got the chance to perform the play for Souza in June at Albert Hall as part of the London Action Festival.
"I was very nervous, but Steven was an absolute gent, very kind and gracious and very generous in his praise for the show, which of course wouldn’t exist if not for him," Marsh says. "If you follow Steven on Twitter, you will see he has the mathematical proof of why Die Hard is a Christmas movie. For me, this closes down the debate on whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The writer has spoken!"
As for how he feels about playing the iconic characters created by screenwriters Souza and Jeb Stuart, Marsh says it's both an "honor" and "quite nerve-racking, because Die Hard has an absolutely sensational cast I’m doing my level best to live up to. It’s not an impression show, so I’m not doing John, Holly, Al or Hans directly, but I channel them and bring an essence of them with a twist of me. So if you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘What would Bruce Willis’s John McClane be like when channeled through a skinny, bespectacled British guy?,’ then it’s time to come along and see for yourself."
Marsh's background in comedy and poetry is evident in the show's structure. "I’ve performed and emceed at a lot of comedy and poetry nights, and my love of that live connection between the stage and the audience is a big part of the show," he explains. "It’s not standup, but it’s very audience-focused, fourth-wall-breaking comic theater with a huge heart and a big emotional pay-off in the personal story I weave around the Die Hard narrative."
"And here lies the truth at the heart of Die Hard," he continues. "John and Holly McClane are a couple in trouble. Their marriage is in trouble. Their family is at risk. They haven’t seen each other for six months when the movie begins. They meet on Christmas Eve, and they want to get along great, but they don’t. Like many couples at Christmas, they argue. Unlike many couples at Christmas, they are unable to reconcile due to terrorist action. But they are a family, like so many families, trying to have a good Christmas. Die Hard is a fantastic movie with amazing action, an incredible cast and one hell of a story, but at its heart, there is a truth about Christmas and families that I believe captures the spirit of the holidays perfectly."
Yippee Ki Yay – The Die Hard Parody! runs Wednesday, December 6, through Saturday, December 23 in the Garner Galleria Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Get tickets at denvercenter.org.