Chicago Theatre Review
You Can Chris-My-Ass-Miss!
The Q Brothers Christmas Carol – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
There are probably as many holiday productions glittering around the Chicago theatre scene as there are chestnuts roasting on an open fire; and about a dozen of these shows are versions of Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The Victorian author might be surprised and a little proud at how his novella about redemption has been adapted for the stage, film, opera and the media. But this production by The Q Brothers, now in its second year at CST, has fast become the Windy City’s favorite, especially among younger audiences. And it’s a terrific, captivating piece of theatre that deserves every bit of the high praise it’s receiving.
Developed primarily by two siblings, who use the professional names GQ and JQ, this updated holiday musical is their third collaboration with Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Their “ad-rap-tations” also include “Funk It Up About Nothin’” and “Othello: The Remix,” popular hip-hop updates of the Bard’s classics (in fact, their “Othello” will be reprised later this season). This current production features the talents of both Q brothers, as well as their two collaborators, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle. Together, these four 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. Assisted by experienced sound designer DJ Super Nova, who’s perched high above the playing area, this contemporary rockin’, poppin’, hip-hoppin’ musical is 75 minutes of high-energy holiday magic, with a message that’s timeless.
It’s impossible to single out any one of these gifted, engaging, vivacious actors. They’re equally brilliant, musically and dramatically talented and work well together as a team, yet shine individually, like the Christmas star. GQ portrays Scrooge throughout the show, the only actor playing a single role. However, this animated young actor, director and co-creator of the piece, clad in gray from head to toe, also portrays Ebenezer at various ages and stages of his life. In that respect, GQ is actually playing several characters in this play. His brother and fellow creator, writer and director JQ is astounding in a variety of roles. He plays a very funny Ghost of Jacob Marley as a delightfully stoned Rastafarian in wild dreadlocks, a la Bob Marley. He also plays Marley as a younger man, as well as Scrooge’s one true love, Belle, 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 juvenile hypochondriac, whose list of ailments increases with each lyric. JQ’s rap as little Tim Cratchit is sidesplitting and includes some fancy breakdance moves, all amazingly performed with a crutch.
Postell Pringle, a co-creator of the piece, is strong, handsome and humorous as both Bob Cratchit and his 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. Mr. Pringle even turns into a spunky, updated version of the Turkey Boy toward the climax and he’s an inexhaustible participant in the many ensemble numbers. Last, but certainly not least, is co-creator and multitalented performer, Jackson Doran. He plays a multitude of characters, including Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, the miser’s only living relative and the son of his beloved deceased sister, Fran. As Fred, Mr. Doran is lovably cheerful and bubbly, a gay young man and a devotee of party games, married to his same-sex partner (played with hilarity by Postell Pringle). Mr. Doran also plays Scrooge’s childhood pal, Dick Wilkins, another Jewish businessman out collecting money for the poor and, his best creation, Mrs. 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. He’s absolutely hilarious.
This production, nestled in the intimate Upstairs space, 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 front row of the audience. Jesse Klug’s lighting is dominated by an ever-changing neon skyline of Chicago and includes some special effects, like the blacklight number for the Ghost of Christmas Future, as well as the big, splashy finale. Mr. Davis’ costumes, teamed with Melissa Veal’s transforming wigs and makeup, allow this quartet to quickly metamorphose into a cast of thousands.
The amount of energy that overflows from this production, coupled with its flash and fleetness, along with the sheer entertainment value and cleverness of the script and songs, makes for a joyful evening at the theatre. This is one holiday production that could easily be enjoyed at any time of the year. And while the show might be aimed at younger audiences, theatergoers of all ages will delight in the imaginative story. It offers gymnastic wordplay, refreshing musical numbers and exuberant dance breaks, captivating performances and an abundance of energy and creativity in every performance. All I can say is if you aren’t thrilled by this exciting, enjoyable production, as Scrooge would say, “You can Chris-my-ass-miss!”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 28-January 3 by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, at Navy Pier, Chicago, in their Upstairs space.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com