Since 2012 during the month of December, a small black box theater in Minneapolis transforms into Christmas Eve at Nakatomi Plaza, the Los Angeles high rise where John McClane and Hans Gruber exchange gunfire and verbal barbs.
This is “A Very Die Hard Christmas,” a locally produced farce inspired by the 1989 action flick starring Bruce Willis, staged at the Bryant Lake Bowl and Theater. The show runs through Dec. 23, and it’s completely sold out.
On its 10th anniversary and its 10th season (this would be the 11th, but it skipped 2020 because of the pandemic), Josh Carson — who has played McClane since the beginning — reflects on how the production has developed a cult following.
“We sold out within five days of our tickets going on sale, about a month before we started,” says Carson, sitting at one of the theater’s little tables for two.
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He says it’s the fourth year the show has sold out before it’s opened. “We're doing more shows than we've ever done this year, and we've sold the most tickets we ever sold on our 10th year.”
Carson, who co-created the show with Andy Rocco Kraft, Brad Erickson and Michael Mayket, says it all started when he wrote a sketch for the Brave New Workshop around 2002.
The premise? A couple debating whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. Meanwhile, the same debate took off online and continues to spar debate. The creators knew they had to do more.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do everything. Let's mash up every single Christmas special we can into ‘Die Hard’ and make it the most Christmas-y Christmas special there ever was,” Carson recalls them saying. “So, we've got puppets, we've got songs, we've got everything, we've got confetti cannons, and like as much chaos and spectacle you can throw into a Christmas show, we've done in this very tiny 9’ by 22’’ stage.”
Kristin Van Loon, the theater’s longtime artistic director, remembers them originally pitching it.
“The idea was charming from the get-go,” Van Loon says. “It such a great mix of very original material, original performers and connecting with so many of the tropes of the holidays.”
She also calls it “rowdy” and “juicy.”
“The show just bursts the seams of the place in many ways,” Van Loon says.
As Carson acts out McClane’s stunts throughout the show, he becomes gradually more and more drenched in fake blood. Carson likens his curtain call to “like ‘Carrie’ at prom, times ten.”
After a few years of splattering the dressing room, the crew decided to douse Carson with it in the parking lot, which has raised more than a few eyebrows.
“When you pour a bucket of fake blood on somebody, and when there's a fresh snow the next day, it will look like a murder scene and the cops will get called,” Carson says, laughing. “That has happened a couple of times and I'm sorry.”
“If I remember correctly, the morning cooks came into ‘Do Not Cross’ tape lines,” Van Loon says, laughing. “There was a true belief that there was blood.”
The show is physically taxing for the entire cast and crew, especially as each year they continue to add more shows.
“They work really hard at the show and then also they clean up after the show when it's done, because by the end of the night, this tiny theater is covered in fake blood and fake cocaine,” Carson says. “When actual Christmas rolls around, we’re exhausted and bruised and I just want to take a nap, which I imagine is how John McClane actually felt on Christmas as well.”