The Q Brothers: an original take on Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Event Review


Maggie Nielsen

"Q Brothers' Christmas Carol" will be performed at The Chicago Shakespeare Theater's new stage, The Yard, until Dec. 31.

By Maggie Nielsen, Reporter

Fake snow littered the ground at The Yard, the new and versatile stage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where twinkling Christmas lights wrapped around the railings and banisters of the balcony levels.

It felt like I walked into a Christmas explosion, with brightly colored red and green lights flashing, and upbeat holiday classics blaring.

I’m not usually the most “holly jolly,” and this year I wasn’t really feeling the Christmas spirit, but somehow I couldn’t help but sing along to the songs blaring out of the DJ booth on the stage.

I was struck at how much effort was put into the venue’s decorations. It was almost as if the technicolor lights on the stage blended seamlessly with the twinkling lights in the seating sections, making the audience feel like part of the stage.

I was sitting in the “cheap seats” which cost $30. The more expensive tickets cost $45, and were located in the cabaret tables next to the stage. I worried that I wouldn’t have the best view of the stage, but fortunately, the venue was small enough that no matter where you sat you could see all the action.

As the music slowly faded out and the lights dimmed, two figures walked across the stage. They held hands and sang about the wonders of Christmas as the music started up again, playing a festive tune with plenty of jingle bells.

The audience was first introduced to Scrooge with a clever rap monologue about how ridiculous Christmas is. It was a great start to the show, and as a fellow Christmas critic, I felt it accurately depicted the worst parts of the season without being overly grinchy.

The whole play had a rhythm to it, and the dialogue was rarely static. Even as the characters interacted, there was a backbeat that added to the musicality of the evening.

As the first of the supernatural forces appeared, Scrooge’s best friend Jacob Marley entered, who after his death was doomed to his personal hell — an eternity of reggae music. It was elements such as this that added to the humorous aspect of the show and poked fun at the ridiculousness of the play without being over the top.

After the strange visit from Marley, Scrooge returned to his slumber, with his head on his bag of money, the only thing he truly loved. A bell tolled, and fog sprayed out from the side of the stage.

The Ghost of Christmas Past appeared with two backup dancers. He was portrayed as an old-school hip-hop artist, introduced through an epic song, complete with dated dance moves and phrases such as “‘fo shizzle.”  

He took Scrooge through pivotal moments in his life, like as a child when he helped his best friends talk to girls, and when he met the love of his life. An epic rock ballad accompanied their kiss under the mistletoe.

However, even after The Ghost of Christmas Past intervened, Scrooge stayed cold-hearted and went back to sleep.

The Ghost of Christmas Present emulated a current day rapper, complete with a smart green blazer and matching mistletoe hat, with a tendency to smash words together.

He showed Scrooge how his relatives and loved ones were celebrating the holiday. It’s here that the audience was introduced to Lil’ Tim, a hilarious kid who was also an aspiring rapper.

Scrooge returned to his slumber until loud techno music and discombobulating flashing lights woke him up.

The Ghosts of Christmas Future appeared as ominous non-speaking dubstep characters, and showed him his bleak future, one where he is no longer alive.

Scrooge then begged to be woken up from the horrible “dream.” After a dramatic monologue which I thought was a little over the top, Scrooge jolted awake, still shaken from his experience. Once he realized he was in fact still alive, he traveled to his friends and family in order to right his wrongs.

The production ended in a wonderful crescendo of Christmas spirit, where all the twinkle lights turn on at the same time. If I’m being honest, I can’t do it justice: it was truly breathtaking.

The show was spectacularly done, and very unique, showcasing how different it was in comparison to some of the other shows The Q Brothers have produced so far.

The Q Brothers are most well known for their “ad-rap-tations” of many of Shakespeare’s works, most famously “Othello: The Remix,” an off-Broadway NY Times Critics’ Pick.

We always wanted to do a Christmas Carol, and we just never got to it,” said GQ, the creative director and founder of The Q Brothers Collective, in a phone interview. “Basically, we don’t want to be categorized just as Shakespeare translators or adaptors or ad-rap-tors or however you wanna term us. We think that there are so many classics out there.”

Even though “The Q Brothers: A Christmas Carol” featured many styles of music, The Q Brothers usually stick to hip-hop because, as GC said, “that’s our lense to which we view everything.”

The plot of the story stays true to Dickens’ original, with enough changes to create a new and unique version. It’s the story that millions of people fell in love with, and the sentiment still rings true.

With clever one-liners and other comedic elements mixed in with original music and choreography, there’s sure to be a little something for everyone in this unique production.     

Ultimately, I left the theater ready to embrace the Christmas season with open arms. As Lil’ Tim would say, “God bless us, e’rybody.”