Friday, December 6, 2019

REVIEW: Q Brothers Christmas Carol

I've loved the Q Brothers since I saw them do their version of Othello three years ago.  READ MY REVIEW OF OTHELLO.

 That soundtrack has become a staple in my household.

They've been busy since then, including a successful Off-Broadway run of Othello, playwriting a new show (an adaptation of Lysistrata called Ms. Estrada) performing at festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and continuing on with their busy lives as musicians, actors, and creators.

In the meantime, their "rap-daptation" version of the Dickens Christmas classic has become a Chicago Shakespeare staple for the last few seasons.  I've missed it the last couple of years and was very excited when I got invited to the opening of this season's production.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Pos) throws it back to Scrooge’s past with the help of back-up dancers (JQ and Jax) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Q Brothers Christmas Carol, presented in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, November 29–December 23, 2019.
Photo by Liz Lauren.

The show does not disappoint.  It tells the basic story of greedy misanthrope Ebeneezer Scrooge and his journey to (SPOILER ALERT): happiness through the intervention of ghosts.  His partner, Jacob Marley, who died 7 years ago on Christmas Eve appears first, followed by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Scrooge realizes through this intervention that his previous misanthropy is not serving him well, and resolves to be a better person.  It's become a holiday classic because of its story of redemption, and the melodramatic storyline that fits perfectly with the Christmas spirit.

A Rastafarian Jacob Marley (JQ, center) and his crew of reggae spirits (left to right, Jax and Pos) haunt Scrooge. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Like most actors, I am very familiar with the story, having performed and done tech for multiple versions of the show.  I can recite many of the original lines that usually remain in every production.  ("I forged these chains in life" | "Nothing but a piece of cheese, or an undigested bit of beef" | "You boy, what day is today" are three samples that Dickens aficionados will easily recognize.) 

In their re-telling, most of these old chestnuts have been cut by the Q brothers, although I have no doubt they could make a fine rhyme for undigested beef)   Instead, we get their words, which are usually super clever, contain multiple pop culture references, and come a mile a minute with a hard-driving beat.  Although I missed some of those old friend phrases, I wasn't so sad about it, as the Q brothers found other inventive ways to say the same things.

"There’s no time like the present" for the Ghost of Christmas Present (JQ), surrounded by his crew (Pos and Jax)  Photo by Liz Lauren.

One of the things that I appreciate about the Q Brothers' work most is their acting.  The style is broad and inventive, yet also filled with authenticity.  They cut away inessential elements, and in the end, we focus on their acting.

In this production, GQ, the brother who plays Scrooge, manages the transformation deftly.  His delight in pissing people off early shows in a hilarious number called Crissmyassmus.  But by the end, when he begs the spirit to take him in death rather than Lil Timm (Tiny Tim from the original, who has been transposed into a rap-star wannabe with a bum leg and multiple multiple diseases) the mood in the theater is chilling.

All four of the actors do the same with their roles, veering from silly to serious and back again.

Scrooge (GQ) embraces the magic of the holiday season.
Photo by Liz Lauren.
Some of the highlights include Postell Pringle as a smoove Grandmaster Flash style Ghost of Christmas Past,  as the ultra-cheerful Bob Cratchit, and his precocious college student/daughter Martha (there's a couple of hilarious and cheesy moments as the actor takes turns smelling delicious corn so that he can portray both characters using a bit of microphone ventriloquism. 

Jackson Doran, who plays the nephew Fred as a charades loving gay man with a penchant for Christmas, as well as Mama Cratchit, and a hilarious friend of Scrooge from year's past.  He also has a hilarious turn as one of the people who dun Scrooge at the beginning (and who Scrooge tells to "Chrissmyassmus")  These two guys are Jewish. for the Rahm and Manual Foundation. Big laugh from the audience.

Lil’ Tim (JQ, at center) pops a move while Mama Cratchit (Jax) and Martha Cratchit (Pos) dance along. Photo by Liz Lauren.

GQ's actual brother JQ plays the aforementioned Lil Timm, whose various diseases cracked the audience up, as well as the Ghost of Christmas Present, who was a weird combination of Stevie Wonder and Vanilla Ice, as geeky girl Belle (who owns Fezzy Wigs, a wig production company that  Scrooge and Marley make their fortune on (but Scrooge insists that they be called wigmakers and not wiggers)  and Jacob Marley (who  visits Scrooge in dreadlocks and sings a rasta-style rap, because his personal hell is Jamaica, and he insists that he is not a long lost son of Bob Marley.)  JQ also has a little bit of a tour-de-force performance as a friend of Scrooge's who waxes philosophically on what it means to Level up.  He got all of the other actors cracking up, as well as the audience.

In short, this is a great adaptation, and well worth seeing.  Tickets are sure to go quickly, so get them before they sell out.

INFORMATION:  Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Q Brothers Christmas Carol, November 29–December 23, 2019 in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. Single tickets ($32-$56) are on sale now. Special discounts will be available for groups of 10 or more. For more information, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

Scrooge (GQ, at center) lights up with the holiday spirit in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Q Brothers Christmas Carol, presented in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, November 29–December 23, 2019.
Photo by joe mazza.

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