You too may agree that with their “ad-rap-tation” of A Christmas Carol, the Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, Jackson “Jax” Doran, and Postell “Pos” Pringle) have created something sensational and transformative. Sensational in that it literally wows and overwhelms the senses; transformative in that it does not merely retell Charles Dickens’ story, but brings it into (and uses it to comment on) the present day.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater Sets Classic Tale to New Beats
Ebenezer Scrooge (GQ) is as callous and miserly as ever, begrudging his put-upon assistant Bob Cratchit (Pos) even minimum wage and the holiday off. He rejects his nephew Fred’s (Jax) invitation to Christmas dinner and charades as a waste of time, and he refuses to give one red cent from his comically oversized sack of money to charity. Even the thought of his late beloved sister Fran can’t distract him from his avarice for more than a moment.
Although this premise will be familiar to anyone who has read the original story or encountered one of its many prior adaptations, already the Q Brothers Collective have carved out their own niche. With only a fleeting exception or two, the entire show is performed in rhyming verse. Not only are their rhymes as clever as any this author has heard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the cast delivers them with the fluidity and passion of dedicated MCs. This vivacious lyricism is propelled to ever greater heights by the live beats of DJ Clayton Stamper, spinning records in his booth high above the stage, but always ready to join in for a dance move.
Musical Versatility and Sharp Acting Complement Each Other
Each of the ghosts that visits Scrooge performs in a different musical style. His equally greedy and grumpy partner Jacob Marley (JQ), having despised all things Jamaican in life, is condemned to the sartorial, tonsorial, and rhythmic trappings of that other famous Marley, Bob. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Pos) is, fittingly enough, an old-school rapper. Present (JQ), on the other hand, seems like he could be a mix between Pitbull, Justin Timberlake, and Bruno Mars.
One of the most memorable and creatively reimagined scenes, in this reviewer’s opinion, comes when Present brings Scrooge to the Cratchit home on Christmas Eve. Despite poverty, debt, illness, and gnawing hunger--all, Scrooge uneasily realizes, ultimately his fault--the Cratchits have the joy of being together and celebrate with a family talent show. The highlight is the rap act of their disabled and hyperbolically unwell youngest son, Lil’ Tim (JQ). Shuffling, bobbing, and twirling his crutch like a baton, he leads the cast in a delightfully funky song-and-dance number updating his iconic line: “G-d bless us, errybody!”
Q Brothers Christmas Carol is a funny and refreshing twist on an old classic. At times, perhaps the show puts a toe (or a crutch) over the line into what some might find rude or offensive, but it is never short on energy or heart. Chicago Shakes regulars, Dickens enthusiasts, and hardcore fans of hip hop, R&B, reggae, and rap will all have much to enjoy, and may just find a new holiday tradition.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
GQ (Creator/Director; Scrooge)
JQ (Creator/Director/Composer; Marley/Belle/Present/Lil’ Tim)
Jackson “Jax” Doran (Creator; Fred/Dick Wilkins/Mama Cratchit)
Postell “Pos” Pringle (Creator; Bob Cratchit/Past/Martha Cratchit/Dance Captain)
Clayton Stamper (DJ)
Rick Boynton (Creative Producer)
Scott Davis (Scenic & Costume Designer)
Jesse Klug (Lighting Designer)
Christopher M. LaPorte (Sound Designer)
Melissa Veal (Original Wig & Make-up Designer)
Shannon Golden (Production Stage Manager)
Ryan Armstrong (Understudy)
Andrew Muwonge (Understudy)
Xavier Roe (Understudy)
Anthony Joseph Santiago (Understudy)
Thru December 23, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.