A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol
At the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (upstairs)
By Dan Zeff
Chicago–-In my comments last year about “A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” I wrote “The show runs for about 80 minutes without an intermission and its motor never stops. It’s almost impossible to describe the lightning-in-the-bottle uniqueness of the ensemble performance. You really have to be there to experience the sensory avalanche that engulfs the audience.”
What was true in 2014 holds true in 2015. “A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” is still a stunner—same cast, same venue (the Chicago Shakespeare Theater upstairs), and the same sumptuous blend of remarkable wordplay sung or chanted in hip hop, rap, and reggae among other pop music styles.
The show is a reworking of the Charles Dickens classic by the Q Brothers--GQ and JQ (no formal names provided). They comprise the acting ensemble cast along with Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle—listed along with the brothers listed as the show’s creators. In addition, the brothers are co-directors and JQ gets composer credits. GQ plays Ebenezer Scrooge and the other three take on the standard supporting roles, like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future as well as Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Belle, and Tiny Tim (called in the spirit of the show, Lil’ Tim).
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow
The action takes place on and around the small upstairs stage. The performers shift characters with the change of a few wigs and outer garments hanging on pegs at the rear of the stage. A disc jockey named DJ Supernova presides musically, laying on the driving rhythms and sound effects from his balcony perch.
The Q Brothers adaptation follows the bare bones of the original plot, tracing Scrooge from his miserly self to his redemption at the end of the show. No matter which characters are on stage, the audience is exposed to a non-stop tsunami of razor sharp rhyming lyrics. The ingenious and hilarious visual and verbal conceits just keep coming, like Marley wearing dreadlocks because in real life he loathed reggae music and his punishment after death is to be immersed in Bob Marley-like songs for eternity.
The pace is relentless, like an 80-minute hip hop aerobics workout. The dialogue is enhanced by precision dance movement, providing such a rush of sight and sound that the audience may not have time to appreciate the artistry and stamina the show demands. The production radiates a feeling of warp speed improvisation. The memory work alone must be staggering, the performers tossing off the dense language without drawing a deep breath. And then there is the jive dancing to be mastered, plus all those on-stage or just off-stage costume changes. But the staging glows with a seamless aura of inevitability developed through who knows how many hours of rehearsal.
The Q Brothers may have given “A Christmas Carol” a complete makeover, but the spirit of the author still communicates itself, though with a 21st century sensibility. I actually enjoyed their Lil’ Tim more than the lugubrious “God bless us everyone” prototype. As Tim, JQ enumerates the vast number of ailments the poor brave tot endures without complaint in a totally hilarious bit that both mocks and honors the character. Young Ebenezer’s interaction with the pigtailed Belle in the Christmas Past segment is a continuous riff of comic surprise.
The narrative does a nimble emotional pirouette in its final minutes as the elderly Scrooge awakes from his dream of the ghostly visits to grasp the moral corruption of his life. Scrooge’s sincere, even desperate, recognition of his past villainy and his plea to be given another change was powerful and convincing. The final scenes provided as moving a climax as I have ever seen in a conventional staging of the story. Scrooge’s passion to reform himself choked me up, and this after more than one solid hour of wit and satire and frivolity. GQ is a magnificent Scrooge, and Dickens would have been pleased, if a little startled, at the character’s hip hop road to reformation.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow
The design team does its part by injecting visual garnishes throughout the evening. Cheers to Scott Davis (scenic and costume design), Jesse Klug (lighting), Palmer Jankens (sound), Melissa Veal (wigs and makeup), and a special shout out to Anacron for the zesty choreography.
The upstairs theater interior has been converted into a semi-cabaret setting, with two rows of café tables and chairs enclosing the stage on three sides. The show isn’t a nightclub presentation, it’s pure theater at its most rollicking, with a delectable dose of hip sophistication. The ringside tables don’t disrupt the ambience of the show, but they don’t contribute anything extra.
If I have any criticism of the production, it’s that the linguistic felicities zing by so quickly that inevitably I missed some of the verbal goodies. I would love to own a copy of the script so I could relish the language at my own pace.
“A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” runs through January 3 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater upstairs theater on Navy Pier. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 6 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 and 6 p.m. Ticket prices run from $30 to $48.Call 312 595 5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.
The show gets a rating of 4 stars. December 2015
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.
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