Die Hard: the Musical-ish is another tight show from the people who previously brought the Hunger Games Musical Trilogy to the Fringe in years passed.
One of the cleverest aspects of this production is that they acknowledge at the outset that it’s rather ridiculous to be mounting a production of Die Hard on the kind of shoestring budget and barebones theatre space of Fringe. They deal with this by seemingly having writer, director, and producer, Mark Vandenberg talk to the audience directly, breaking the 4th wall, and basically explaining that they don’t have the budget to properly mount Die Hard: the Musical, explaining their hopes and ambitions for the show, and asking the audience for money to make these dreams come true. The show is punctuated by these very funny explanations of what they ‘would do’ if they had the budget.
This show is overall well-written and well-performed. It embraces it’s absurdity and has a lot of fun. The songs are overall strong, except for the first and last numbers, which are the weakest, and could easily be cut or parred down. They cleverly used hits from the 1980’s, with changed lyrics, so that thematically, as well as substantively, it held together.
Although sparse, the costumes and props were well-used. Even though most of the actors and actresses played multiple roles, it was always clear where we were and who was who (except in the opening number, which was confusing). I especially enjoyed the trio who played the 4 German terrorists, who really embraced the absurdity of the show and provided thorough laughs.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this show, I found the beginning to be somewhat unclear, and seemed to require knowledge of the source material. Similarly, I found the multiple epilogues of the ending to drag an otherwise tight show. Mr. Vandenberg may want to consider transitioning at the hilarious “I guess that means everything’s okay now” line right into the ensemble number “We’re Not Kidding”.
Overall, a delightful show, even for those who dislike musicals. You won’t be able to keep yourself from being swept up by the charm and hilarity of this ensemble.
Die Hard: the Musical-ish by District 13 Presents is playing at Studio 1398 on Granville Island 6 - 16 September as part of the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival.
~ reviewed by Vanessa Marshall
Click "read more" for the full video transcript.
Hello, theatre addicts, my name is Vanessa Marshall and I'm doing a review of Die Hard The Musical-ish by District 13, which is playing at Studio 1398 here on Granville Island as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.
This show is really good. It's really, really, really good. It is funny throughout. It never takes its foot off the gas pedal, but it isn't exhausting despite that. There's still a lot of nuances and ups and downs and quiet moments and louder moments and group moments and individual moments throughout, so it's a really well-constructed production. It's just really well put together because it has lots of nuance and it's never, ever for a minute boring or slow.
The first thing that that I would say is the show is written and directed by Marc Vandenberg who has previously done The Hunger Games: A Musical, which I really enjoyed, and this is another fine production from him for sure. The writing is strong and the lyrics are great. Paige Vassos does the choreography and it's really impressive for such a small venue for the level of choreography that you get. Sure, you know, it's not World of Dance, all of the dancers are not perfectly in sync all of the time, but it doesn't matter because it's got that community feel and there's a variety of moves, there's a variety of distinct styles. There's also some action pieces in there which is a little bit surprising. So Paige does an excellent job of putting in a lot of different choreography in a piece like this, so that's really impressive.
When I first heard that they were doing Die Hard The Musical-ish and my first thought was, I mean, it's been a solid 20 years since I saw Die Hard but I was like, "Don't they throw somebody out of a building?" Like, how are they going to do this in a small studio space as part of Fringe, which is super low budget? And one of the things that they do that I think is super, super smart is they actually make it kind of a meta show. So throughout the show there's this kind of producer coming in and essentially trying to convince you to give money to the production and talking about what the production would be if they had the budget and hey, how about you donate and do you want to be an angel investor.
And rather than being distracting because it's breaking the fourth wall, it actually really adds this hilarious, because obviously, you know, none of us are going to do that and obviously they're not going to really put on some massive scale arts club production of this show. But the fact that they acknowledge at the outset, of course, like, of course, we're not going to really be able to do Die Hard in what you think of when you think of Die Hard, And by including that kind of meta narrative, they've got a screen and there are some really hilarious messages that come up on the screen that talk about that. So you're never, you know, this is what it would be and this is the set that we would do and here are these fancy people that we would involve if we had the budget and how about you give us some money. So that's all really hilarious, and I really liked it. I really thought it did a good job of making it all kind of work because without that, the silliness of throwing a Cabbage Patch Doll over some blocks to demonstrate somebody falling out a window wouldn't work, but because it's sort of all acknowledged as being silly and, you know, you have to use your imagination. It does work. It works really, really well.
The singing is uneven, which is to be expected. I wanted to give a couple of shout outs, Amy Dauer in particular and Richard Meen both did excellent jobs with the singing. Richard Meen, who plays John McClane, the lead character, he also does a really great job in that role. You know, one of the things that theatre people or acting people talk about is how important it is to listen as an actor, and he did a great job. There are lots of moments where other people would be doing dialogue or other people would be singing and I would be watching him and he was always reacting and his reactions were always funny and honest and authentic. He did a great job in this role and I felt like his performance got better as the show went on. Maybe he got more comfortable, I'm not sure, but it was a really great performance.
I would also say some of the other standouts Frano Marsic and also Vick, I'm not sure if I'm saying that right, but they both did great jobs as well. They were definitely standouts in the cast, but I think my personal, personal favourite was Matthew Simmons as the villain. He was so funny to me in a very specific, villain kind of style and really sort of mocking it and taking it right to the edge and it was so perfect. There's one particular number where he does a tap dance as his big I'm-the-villain number and there's something that was for me so hilarious about the lack of matching up between this concept of I'm this very scary villain and I'm going to kill all these people and I have killed all these people and tap dancing, how abstract that is and how out of sync that was so hilarious as to make it perfect in my view. So that was a really strong number. There was also a song that they did to an REM song where it involved a lot of choral vocal work amongst a whole group of people. They did such a good job with that.
I think one of the things that I want to say about this show is that they could have made it way simpler and way dumber than they did, but they didn't. They made it smart throughout. They made it funny throughout. They embraced the silliness where it was appropriate. They embraced what was absurd where it was appropriate. They embraced what was serious where it was appropriate. So it was a really great show. I really, really enjoyed it.
Some of the humour is about the stereotypes that we have about certain groups, whether that's stereotypes about Canadians or stereotypes about the police or stereotypes about Germans or Asians. So you kind of have to be prepared to not take that too seriously because there are some of those moments, but I really loved them. I was a little bit worried at first, but they handled them really well and I thought they were very, very funny.
So those are my thoughts on Die Hard The Musical-ish which is playing at Studio 1398 and is put on by District 13 Productions. It is here as part of the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival. Please feel free to put your comments at the bottom of this video and to join our feed on YouTube. So look for more reviews in coming days.
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