Victorian author Charles Dickens might be surprised, and maybe a little proud, at how his story about one curmudgeon’s redemption has been adapted for the stage, film, opera and every other form of media.
This production, “Q Brothers Christmas Carol,” back by popular demand at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, has fast become one of the Windy City’s favorite holiday events, especially among younger, hipper audiences. It’s a terrific, cleverly-written and utterly captivating piece of theatre that deserves the high praise it’s received.
Developed primarily by two siblings who go by the professional names GQ and JQ, this updated holiday musical is another collaboration with Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Their 7 “ad-rap-tations” also include “Funk It Up About Nothin,’” and “Othello: The Remix,” in a series of popular hip-hop updates of the Bard’s classics.
This current, slightly revised production of Dickens’ famous story features the talents of both Q Brothers as well as their two collaborators, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle. Together, these four mega-talented young men not only came up with the concept and wrote this fast-paced script, continually updating it with current Chicago events, but they perform it, as well.
Ably assisted by experienced DJ Clayton Stamper, and working with the sound designed by Christopher M. LaPorte, perched high above the playing area, this contemporary rockin’ hip-hoppin’ musical is 80 minutes of holiday magic with a message that’s timeless, as well as being au courant.
First published in 1843, Dickens was moved to write this cautionary tale as a response to the current callousness after an eye-opening visit to a school for poor British orphans operating at a time when the wealthy 1%,only cared about how to become richer.
Not surprisingly, what was true back in Victorian London still haunts us today. The shrewd theatergoer will recognize Scrooge’s traits in a current political leader which makes this contemporary retelling of Dickens’ holiday classic even more pertinent.
In the hands of these five clever, creative artists, “A Christmas Carol” has never looked or sounded more meaningful, contemporary-sounding or timely.
These engaging, vivacious actors are all equally talented, musically and dramatically, and work so well together as a team. Yet, each performer manages to shine individually.
GQ not only directs the production, he dynamically inhabits Scrooge, the only actor playing a single character. However, this animated young actor, director and co-creator of the piece, clad in gray from head to toe, portrays Ebenezer at various ages and stages of his life. In that respect, GQ is also playing multiple roles in this play.
His brother, co-creator, writer, director and composer JQ, is astounding in a variety of roles. He plays a very funny Ghost of Jacob Marley as a delightfully stoned Rastafarian, clad in wild dreadlocks, a la Bob Marley.
He also plays Marley as a younger man, as well as Scrooge’s one true love, Belle Fezzi. Plus he’s also the joyful Ghost of Christmas Present and one of two Jewish businessmen collecting money for those less fortunate.
But perhaps JQ’s best character is Tiny Tim, played as a winsome junior hypochondriac whose list of ailments hilariously increases with each verse of his song, all amazingly performed break-dance style with the aid of a crutch.
Postell Pringle, another co-creator of the piece, is handsome and humorous as Bob Cratchit and the bold and brassy eldest daughter, Martha. The scene between the two characters is a tour de force that must be seen to be appreciated. As the effusive Spirit of Christmas Past he’s filled with all the warmth and delight of fond memories.
Last, but certainly not least, is co-creator and multitalented performer, Jackson Doran. This likable actor plays a multitude of characters, including Scrooge’s flamboyant nephew, Fred, the miser’s only living relative and the son of his beloved deceased sister, Frannie.
As Fred, Doran is cheerful, charismatic and bubbly, a gay young man and a devotee of party games, married to his same-sex partner (played with hilarity by Postell Pringle). Doran also plays Scrooge’s childhood pal, Dick Wilkins, one of the two Jewish businessmen collecting money for the poor and, his funniest creation, Mrs. Rose Cratchit. This lady, decked out in apron, hairnet and curlers, is a sassy, red-hot mama who’s part Julia Child and part Beyonce, bringing down the house with all the right moves.
This production, nestled in the impressive, newly-designed Yard, with cafe tables and chairs lining the acting area, resembles a nightclub or a cabaret.
Scott Davis’ simple set is a tiny, T-shaped concert stage, accented with colored lights, that brings the action into the lap of the audience. Jesse Klug’s lighting is dominated by a colorful, ever-changing neon skyline of Chicago and includes some special effects, including the big, splashy finale that sports over two miles of twinkle lights.
Davis’ costumes, accented by Melissa Veal’s transforming wigs and makeup design, allow this tiny quartet to quickly morph into a cast of thousands.
This is an enterprising, energetic production that delivers brilliant, clever wordplay, refreshing new musical numbers and exuberant dance breaks. With its captivating performances, abundance of energy and creativity and a unique chemistry with the audience, every performance is special.
DETAILS: “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” is in the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Chicago’s Navy Pier through Dec. 2, 2019. Running time: 80 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 or visit ChicagoShakes.
For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.