Chicago Theater Review: A Q BROTHERS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 24, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

SCROOGE GETS RAPPED

These eighty glorious minutes of boom-box beats get into your blood and bones—and inevitably they reach the heart. Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s latest “ad-rap-tation” from the Q Brothers and Rick Boynton (creators of Funk It Up About Nothin’ and Othello: The Remix) plays the Dickens with a Christmas classic. Inventing perpetual motion as they bounce through their own iambic pentameter and groaner rhymes, the hip hoppers’ A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol electrify and update the beloved tale of a miser’s reclamation by four ghosts and his own guilt. With rapid-fire costume changes to match the machine-gun patter and a cabaret setting to keep it real, this dazzling, dizzying tour de rap (often too fast to process) stays true to the spirit by driving Dickens home to their own funky glory.

 “There’s no time like the present” for the Ghost of Christmas Present (JQ, left of center) as he shows Ebenezer Scrooge (GQ, right of center) the errors of his ways, surrounded by dancers (far left and right: Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol.

This is family friendly fare, not the too-familiar, adrenaline-hyped, in-your-face catalogue of X-rated gangsta rap and its urban threats and regrets. There’s no anger and very little irreverence in its ever-clever transformation from Victorian eloquence to the supple, cascading and literally unforgettable rhythms churned out by DJ Super Nova’s busy turntable and synthesizer (a mashup of dubstep, rock, punk, and dancehall styles).

CA Rastafarian Jacob Marley (JQ, center) and his crew of reggae spirits (left to right, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) haunt Scrooge in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, now through December 31. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

GQ plays a painfully contemporary Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy geezer who is erotically involved with his money bag, humbugging the “Chris-miasma” he hates so much. Marley’s Ghost (JQ) takes a hint from his name: For his sins he’s now trapped in a posthumous Jamaican nightmare, transmogrified into a reggae master, complete with dreadlocks—the sounds he hates most but now delivers in his hellish warning to his business partner. Scrooge’s childhood friends are dating dweebs. Scrooge’s brief dalliance with Belle (also JQ) becomes a disco duet that only omits the mirror ball.

Lil’ Tim (JQ, at center) hip hops along with his family, Mrs. Cratchit (Jackson Doran, left) and older sister Martha Cratchit (Postell Pringle, right) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, now through December 31. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Performing against a pulsating Chicago cityscape on the busy thrust stage, the Ghosts are incarnations of past, present, and future hip hop. Boisterous Bob Cratchit (Postell Pringle) is a hearty homeboy, Mama Cratchit (Jackson Doran) a “wigger” ninny, and, the youngest whelp, now called “Lil’ Tim” (JQ), is sick with a dozen maladies but cops some wizard moves with his flailing crutch. Their idea of blissful domesticity is the “hug life” and they hoof it up to captivating tunes by awesomely skilled JQ. Scrooge’s nerd nephew Fred (Doran) is now gay and happy too. Like the Marines, this show leaves nobody behind.

Ebenezer Scrooge (GQ) travels through the hip-hop ages—decade by decade from past to present to future—in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, now through December 31. Photo by Michael Brosilow.Along the merry way the 2014 remake manages some sporadic satire—of the health care hurdles the Cratchits face and whether Lil’ Tim had a “pre-existing condition.” Their grungy poverty is elaborately detailed, enough to make Scrooge’s “1 %” rationalizations of ill-gotten gains, white collar crime, and unearned entitlement trendy and toxic. Here “decreasing the surplus population” is replaced with “outsourcing,” “privatizing” and “downsizing.”

Unstoppable, unbeatable, relentless, four-star fun, the show ends as the redeemed recluse plugs in a veritable constellation of Christmas lights. A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol pays off in ways Scrooge could never understand. But then you can’t stop a good story: Dickens front-loaded his 1843 cautionary tale so powerfully that nothing gets lost in translation.

The old-school Ghost of Christmas Past (Postell Pringle) spins Scrooge back in time in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare, now through December 31. Photo by Michael Brosilow.photos by Michael Brosilow

A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol
Chicago Shakespeare
Upstairs Theater on Navy Pier
scheduled to end on December 31, 2014
for tickets, call 312.595.5600
or visit www.chicagoshakes.com

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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