Blank Canvas' 'Yippee Ki-Yay' Subverts Parody, Offers Hilarious Holiday Hijinks

It’s time for Christmas merriment with the ensemble cast at Blank Canvas.
It’s time for Christmas merriment with the ensemble cast at Blank Canvas. Photo by Kristen Netzband

Yippee Ki-Yay

Through Dec. 21 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 1305 West 78th St., 440-941-0458

The debate is finally over. Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and it's gotten the holiday treatment.

Chicago's greatest theatrical import has come to Cleveland with Blank Canvas' regional premiere of Yippee Ki-Yay, Merry Christmas, a musical parody more baked than a fresh batch of gingerbread men and wrapped in enough pop culture references and puns to make for the perfect present for fans of abstract comedy theater.

The play — produced for the first time outside of MCL Chicago where this delightfully zany script was birthed — has made quite a name for itself in the Windy City as a new tradition, playing annually since 2014 to national praise. Locally, director Patrick Ciamacco, entrusted with Michael Shepard Jordan and Alex Garday's story, has taken the play and flaunted its crass humor and wild antics while dialing all those qualities to 11. The script allowed the crew at Blank Canvas to really get crazy, and the result is an infectious amount of fun and laughter.

If only the Tonys had categories like "Best Song About Sexualizing Twinkies" or "Longest Raspberry Blown On-Stage" or the ever-illustrious "Best Use of a Wilhelm Scream."

Similar to Die Hard, Bruce McClane (Danny Simpson) — already without shoes — takes a Christmas break from his beat cop job in New York to visit California, as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged wife, Holly Generic (Olivia Petrey). Suddenly, a stuffy international terrorist, Hans Olo (Chris Buzub, putting on his best Alan Rickman impression), interrupts a company party at Holly's work and takes her and the other employees hostage, with Bruce stuck inside.

In order to save the day and win his wife back, Bruce is forced to utilize his wit, fists and a bunch of friends along the way, like Carl Winslow (Darius Stubbs), a sugar-fueled cop Bruce communicates with through walkie-talkie, Winslow's commander Dwayne T. P. V. Robinson (Kate Leigh Michalski) and even the gun-toting, quip-spewing Arnold Schwartzen-Schnitzel (Aaron Patterson). Bruce needs all the help he can get, despite Hans' dim-witted entourage, which includes the likes of twins Klaus and Tony (both by Meg Martinez) and Marco (a life-size puppet).

Meanwhile, Olo's assistant and tech expert Theo (Venchise Glenn-Phillips) finds a rather obscure way to manipulate Holly's boss Ninetendo Nakatomi (Noah Hrbek) to unlock the company's fortune, as coked-up co-worker Willis (Zach Palumbo) weasels his way to Hans' good side, trying to sabotage Bruce's rescue mission for his own personal vendetta.

Fans of Die Hard will get some of the more detailed jokes and visual gags a bit more, but the play is also fine for those who have only a surface-level knowledge of the famed film franchise starring everyone's favorite Levi's spokesperson. Yippee Ki-Yay takes the source material with a grain of salt, inserting every joke it can possibly use to poke fun at its original cast and their careers, the cheesy nature of '80s' action films in general and the absence of limitations within the theater medium.

The ensemble cast pulls no punches to deliver to the audience a raucous, side-splitting show. Simpson, visibly posturing like Bruce Willis, isn't afraid to make fun of himself, and it results in some great moments, especially with Buzub and Stubbs. Buzub also exudes self-deprecating humor and feigned machismo to overwhelming success. Stubbs, meanwhile, is at his best whilst flaunting his "sensual" side with unabashed glee.

Petrey plays the independent woman schtick to a T, especially in her spotlight in the musical number "80's Lady." On the flipside, Kyle Burnett — a noticeably enthusiastic ensemble player who also plays an overzealous FBI agent — hilariously shouts his musical number, "Federal Badass Investigator," with conviction.

Hrbek — taking the grand prize for best human rag doll — parades his mastery of prop falls and physical comedy, pairing well with the hilarious Glenn-Phillips. Palumbo shines, especially in the second act, with an unrivaled manic persona in musical numbers such as "Cocaine" and "Winning," even with his contribution to the latter admittedly brief, but plays a part in one of the best visual gags of the play's climax.

With a frenzy of frantic facial expressions, Martinez hams it up in the best way possible given her over-the-top roles, as Patterson displays a comical Schwarzenegger impression, complete with crazed yelps. Both chew scenery like it's a holiday roast with all the trimmings, and it's something to see.

The superb treatment of the music separates this play from parody. Musical director Bradley Wyner blends Christmas classics and subtle nods to '80s' jams to create an eclectic soundtrack to an equally eclectic production.

In a rather inconsequential gripe that falls on the writers rather than Blank Canvas, there is a missed opportunity for laughs and a unique set piece parodying the numerous scenes of McClane inside air ducts like in the original Die Hard. However, there are plenty of references in and outside of the source material that work wonderfully.

With an all-in commitment to a sensationally quirky concept, Blank Canvas has taken this wild script and made it its own, and the jokes keep coming like waves at high tide. You may find that, even long after the show has ended, you discover a joke or visual gag you may have glanced over.

Who knows, maybe we could borrow a holiday tradition from the Windy City and enjoy it every year. Sure beats a marathon of melodramatic Hallmark movies for getting in the Christmas spirit.

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