Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol-2018
In The Yard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
By Dan Zeff
Chicago–“The Q Brothers Christmas Carol” is back at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater for its fifth holiday appearance. Even with two of the four cast members new to the show, the production is as dazzling and nimble and funny and creative as ever .The comments below thus borrow considerably from the enthusiastic reviews of the recent past.
The chief difference this year is the replacement of two of the four ensemble members. They would seem to be irreplaceable because of the exceptional demands of the show, but understudy Jake Samson for Jason Doran and especially John Hoogenakker for GQ as Ebenezer Scrooge fit seamlessly into the staging. Hoogenakker takes the role through December 9 and will be followed by Jason Grimm to the end of the run. Postell Pringle is the other returnee in the cast.
“The Q Brothers Christmas Carol” is a reworking of the Charles Dickens classic by the Q Brothers–GQ and JQ (no formal names provided). The brothers are listed as two of the show’s creators as well as co-directors. Hoogenakker plays 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).
This season’s production retains the same glorious blend of remarkable word play sung or chanted in hip hop, rap, and reggae among other pop music styles. The performers shift characters with the change of a few wigs and outer garments hanging on pegs on the rear wall of the stage. A disc jockey named Kieran Pereira presides musically, laying down the driving rhythms and sound effects from his perch overlooking the stage. There is plenty of glitz in this year’s staging, leading up to the glittering finale, thanks to the technical opportunities available in the Yard, especially in the lighting.
The Q Brothers adaptation follows the bare bones of the original Charles Dickens Victorian-era story, tracing Scrooge from his early years to his present miserly self to his redemption at the end of the show. No matter what combination of characters are on stage, the audience is exposed to a non-stop tsunami of razor sharp rhyming dialogue and lyrics. The ingenious and hilarious visual and verbal conceits just keep coming, like the ghost of Jacob Marley wearing dreadlocks because in real life he loathed reggae music and his punishment after death is immersion in the hell of reggae for eternity.
The performance pace is relentless, like an 80-minute hip hop aerobics workout. The performers providing such a rush of sight and sound that the audience may not have time to fully recognize both the artistry and stamina the show demands. The memory work alone must be staggering, the performers tossing off the dense rhymes 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 and wig changes. The entire staging glows with a seamless aura of improvisation and inevitability developed through who knows how many hours of rehearsal.
The Q Brothers may be giving “A Christmas Carol” a heavy stylistic makeover, but the spirit of the original tale still is preserved, though with a 21st century sensibility. As usual, I found JQ’s droll take on Lil’ Tim comical take on the ailing little boy more entertaining and more insightful than the lugubrious “God bless us everyone” prototype. As Tim, JQ enumerates the vast number of diseases the poor brave tot endures without complaint in a hilarious bit that both ridicules and honors the character. Young Ebenezer’s interaction with his blonde pigtailed romantic interest Belle in the Christmas Past segment is a continuous riff of comic surprises.
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 callous greed, and his plea to be given another change to live a better life is powerful and convincing. The final scenes provided as moving a climax as I have ever seen in a conventional staging of the story
The design team does its part by injecting visual and aural garnishes throughout the evening in what is basically a language show. So cheers to Scott Davis (scenic and costume design), Jesse Klug (lighting), Stephen Ptacek (sound), and Melissa Veal (wigs and makeup). A special shout out goes to Anacron for his virtually nonstop choreographic movement, executed with bravura precision and exuberance by the four players.
The show runs without an intermission and its motor never stops. It’s almost impossible to describe the lightning-in-the-bottle uniqueness of the ensemble performance. Indeed, if I have any criticism of the production, it’s that the verbal felicities zing by so quickly that inevitably I missed some of the linguistic goodies. I would love to own a copy of the script so I could relish the language at my own pace.
The show gets a rating of
“A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” runs through December 30 at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier. Most 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 $52. Call 312 595 5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.
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