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Theatre Unleashed’s ‘A Very Die Hard Christmas’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play’ – Theatre Review

Each year, the winter holidays bring with them countless traditions and customs that help to make the season more memorable and festive.  Likewise, the formation of new traditions can make the holidays that much brighter for generations to come.  One such tradition that should find its way into your holiday activities is to attend the annual performances of Theatre Unleashed’s A Very Die Hard Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play.  The North Hollywood-based theatre company’s dynamic productions offer a wide range of raucous, good cheer and sincere warmheartedness, ensuring that there will surely be something for everyone to enjoy. 

Last year marked the west coast premiere of A Very Die Hard Christmas at Theatre Unleashed, providing audiences with the side-splitting opportunity to celebrate the 1988 action movie classic and continue the age-old debate over whether Die Hard is truly a Christmas movie.  Written by Josh Carson, the production parodies the film that made Bruce Willis a megastar, infused with a heavy dose of holiday celebrity appearances, including Rankin-Bass’ Sam the Snowman and Hermey the Elf, the Grinch (who stole Christmas – or at least tried), and even George Bailey.  In its sophomore year with Theatre Unleashed, A Very Die Hard Christmas returns with an updated cast that is determined to leave its audience rolling with laughter in the aisles.  Under the skillful direction of TU Managing Director Gregory Crafts, the show’s rousing musical numbers and action sequences are a holiday delight, delivering a non-stop thrill ride that rivals the excitement of the original film. 

As always, the cast of TU’s performances is a stellar ensemble of heavy hitters that complement one another at every turn.  Wade Wilson (Chi-Raq, Living the Dream) zestfully returns to the role of John McClane, bringing with him the same charm and endless energy that he effortlessly supplied to the character in its 2015 premiere.  Playing opposite Wilson in the role of Holly Generro is Theatre Unleashed veteran Kire Horton (Cake, Pope!), whose sharp wit and humor make the character a force to be reckoned with, especially when playing opposite Wilson.  In addition, notable mentions must be made to Robby DeVillez and Twon Pope who transitioned quite frequently throughout the show to several contrasting and lively characters, often bringing the house down with laughter and applause.

While A Very Die Hard Christmas guarantees a deep belly laugh for audiences in the mood for devilish delight this holiday season, TU’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is an unexpected gem that will undoubtedly leave you a bit teary, overwhelmed by its powerful message of hope, humanity, and goodness. 

Re-written this year by Theatre Unleashed founding member Jim Martyka (Boy Gets Girl, Sleeping Around), It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is set in the late 1940s, when radio is being phased out by television, and one determined radio station owner (Michael Anderston) is determined to keep the family business from going under by staging one final on-air production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Paralleling the story of George Bailey’s valiant and honorable efforts to keep the Bailey Building & Loan afloat for the good of his community, we see Anderson (remarkably performed by Spencer Cantrell) attempt to run the radio play in spite of no-show actors, larger-than-life personalities, an unreliable crew, and – worst of all – his own self-doubt in the face of insurmountable odds.  When Anderson and his long-time radio station partner and girlfriend Melanie Peters (beautifully performed by TU veteran Courtney Bell) are forced to step in at the last minute to play George and Mary Bailey, only a miracle will get them through the show and keep the station alive.

At a time when human decency, empathy, acceptance, and goodwill are needed more than ever in our society, TU’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a quintessential reminder of what truly matters in life, and that even in our worst moments, we can persevere and be better for it.  Martyka’s flawless script is superbly performed by the all-star cast, with Cantrell and Bell truly delivering all-star performances.  It is a remarkable thing to witness an audience so moved by a performance that they lean ever so slightly forward in their chairs, captivated fully and deeply.

Amidst your hectic holiday schedule, be sure to make time for yourself and your loved ones to see these wonderful performances. Theatre Unleashed’s holiday pairing of A Very Die Hard Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play will run through December 18th at The Belfry Stage in North Hollywood.  Tickets are available online and at the door, and patrons may also bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots to “Pay What You Want” for tickets.  Please note that the theatre is located upstairs, and, unfortunately, it is not wheelchair accessible.  Be sure to visit the Theatre Unleashed website for further details.

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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