Q Brothers Christmas Carol | Chicago Shakespeare Theater, December 3rd, 2019
4 out of 4 stars
(Originally published on Chicago Stage Standard)
Hilarious, festive and a down-right good time! Tis’ the season at Chicago Shakes with the return of the Q Brothers Christmas Carol in The Yard for a 80 minute hip-hop musical that is fully decked out in the holiday spirit and bringing joy and wonder to even the cantankerous Scrooge.
Created and performed by Chicago hip hop sensations the Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, Jax, and Pos) and developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, this wildly entertaining reinterpretation of the Charles Dickens classic mashes up hip hop with contemporary musical styles ranging from reggae and dancehall music, to dubstep and epic rock ballads—all underscored with beats spun live at the turntables by DJ Clay.
Dickens’ Carol is twisted and flipped on its head, but maintaining the heart and soul of what Christmas is all about. By taking inspiration from pop culture, the performance opens with the infamous “Triple Dog Dare” from a holiday classic A Christmas Story when a little boy is convinced to stick is tongue to a frozen metal street pole. Later, those same kids appear in colored scarves reminiscent of those devilish nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie from Disney’s numerous Christmas specials. Giving a fresh take on a classic is no easy task, but the Q Brothers hone in on side-splitting jokes and story telling that truly makes the experience so unique.
The adrenaline and endurance the actors have to possess for this jam-packed fast-paced tale is truly a marvel. GQ’s performance as Scrooge astounds as he gives empathetic weight to this old miser. With slight tweaks and twerks, this Scrooge is forced to reexamine love, loss, neglect and grief through the visits of three ghosts: Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. JQ (Marley / Belle / Present / Lil’ Tim), Pos (Bob Cratchit / Past / Martha Cratchit), and Jax (Fred / Dick Wilkins / Mama Cratchit) are all hilarious in the various characters they play. At no point in this work will you be looking at your watch because each actor puts so much heart into this work that their passions radiate a high energy throughout the theater that is truly enthralling.
Together the four members of the Q Brothers Collective portray all of the roles in the timeless Dickens tale! This means the play sits somewhere between traditional theater and sort of an improv vibe with costume changes occurring onstage. Wigs and accessories hang on the chain-link fence upstage and the transitions are executed so well that audience members are never really pulled out of the story with these changes. Part of this seamlessness is to do with Melissa Veal’s brilliant ingenuitive wig design. Veal utilizes backwards baseball caps to mount the various wigs on, which the actors can then quickly change between without any fuss and maintain their shape.
Joining directors GQ and JQ on the creative team are Scenic and Costume Designer Scott Davis and Lighting Designer Jesse Klug, who both always knock it out of the park with their concepts. Having seen the performance in years past, the seating arrangement in The Yard is completely adaptable for any performance with its nine mobile seating towers and this year has shifted its style to accommodate the well-earned growing audiences for this new holiday staple. The theater maintains the intimacy and relaxed setting with low cabaret tables down front placed close to the high stage, which for some could be intimidating, followed by high top tables and tiered seating filling two-thirds of the theater space. Inclusion is what this performance is all about and blending the line between actor and audience is something this production excels. The Q Brothers pioneered the “ad-RAP-tation” concept with their Off-Broadway hit The Bomb-itty of Errors in 1999. They are regular fixtures at music festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. Their award-winning collaborations with Chicago Shakespeare Creative Producer Rick Boynton include Othello: The Remix and Funk It Up About Nothin’.
The smart quick paced rhymes are hilarious and vitalizing. Audience members were buzzing post-show in the lobby. “Very clever and [a] fun show! I loved the dancing,” said Jonathan Ross, a Chicago resident seeing the show for the first time. The choreography by Anacron plays off the various musical styles and definitely adds some spice to the stage. From back-up dancer moves to a wholly intricate sequences, each portion of the work is really impressive as the choreography and blocking complement each other wonderfully. The movements of each performer add to overall embellishment in the stage presence that makes this performance feel so full and well-rounded. You will leave the theater beaming and full of holiday spirit. Outrageously funny and catchy beats, it’s no wonder this is now a Chicago holiday tradition must-see!
Q Brothers Christmas Carol is now playing in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare for a limited engagement through December 23, 2019. You don’t want to miss out on this Chicago holiday tradition!