Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Yard)

A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol-2017

In The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare

By Dan Zeff

Chicago–-“The Q Brothers Christmas Carol” is back at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater for its fourth holiday appearance. The show remains the same—dazzling, and my reaction is unchanged. I was blown away. The comments below thus borrow considerably from the enthusiastic reviews of 2013-2015.

“The Q Brothers Christmas Carol” is a reworking of the Charles Dickens classic by the Q Brothers–GQ and JQ (no formal names provided). They comprise half the acting ensemble along with Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle. The brothers are listed as the show’s creators as well as 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).  

This season’s production retains the same sumptuous blend of remarkable wordplay sung or chanted in hip hop, rap, and reggae among other pop music styles. What is new and improved is the production’s change of venue to the new Yard with its additional playing space, a considerable upgrade over the previous limited upstairs space. Yard audiences are now on the same second floor level as the Courtyard theater, with no inconvenient additional elevator ride. There is plenty of promenade space and more abundant bar facilities, as well as a plentiful number of tables for socializing.

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

Most of the audience sits at tables for four, cabaret style. But the room is still a theater, with no waiters delivering drinks during the performance. Of course, patrons can bring beverages to the table. The seating encloses the stage on three sides, neatly blending an informal contemporary cabaret ambience with a 16th century Elizabethan look.

The performers shift characters with the change of a few wigs and outer garments hanging on pegs on the rear wall. A disc jockey named Kieran Pereira presides musically, laying down the driving rhythms and sound effects from his perch overlooking the stage. There is more glitz in this year’s staging, thanks to the enhanced 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 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 to be immersed in the hell of reggae for eternity.

The 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 recognize both 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 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 changes.  The entire staging glows with a seamless aura of inevitability developed through who knows how many hours of rehearsal.

The Q Brothers may be giving “A Christmas Carol” a complete makeover, but the spirit of the original tale still is preserved, 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 hilarious bit that both ridicules and honors the character. Young Ebenezer’s interaction with his pigtailed romantic interest 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 nastiness, and his plea to be given another change to live a better life was powerful and convincing. The final scenes provided as moving a climax as I have ever seen in a conventional staging of the story. G Q is a magnificent Scrooge, and Dickens would have been pleased, if a little startled, at the character’s hip hop road to reformation.

The design team does its part by injecting visual garnishes throughout the evening in what is basically a language show. So cheers to Scott Davis (scenic and costume design), Jesse Klug (lighting), Palmer Jankens (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-man ensemble.

                           Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

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. You really have to be there to experience the sensory avalanche that engulfs the audience. Indeed, 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 December 31 at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare 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 $52. Call 312 595 5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.

 The show gets a rating of   

.        November 2017

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