By: Q Brothers Collective and Rick Boynton
At: The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets: 312-595-5600 or c ChicagoShakes.com; $30-$52. Runs through: Dec. 30
There was a time when mashing together hip hop and theater traditions might have seemed absurd to the Chicago theatergoer.
But thanks to the Q Brothers Collective and its ongoing creative partnership with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, their high-energy fusion of the two art forms has been celebrated since long before Hamilton came to town. Q Brothers Christmas Carolnow in its fifth production with Chicago Shakesbrings comfort and joy to the audience using clever musical homages, while displaying impressive and heartfelt performances.
The basic story of A Christmas Carol remains unchanged in this reinterpretation that includes dancehall music, rock ballads, dubstep, and some great Run DMC beatsall spun by Kiernan Pereira. Pushed forward into the twenty-first century, Scrooge ( John Hoogenakker ) is still a tight-fisted old miser who won't let his beleaguered worker Bob Cratchit ( Postell Pringle ) turn up the thermostat in their office, and he still won't hear of attending his nephew Fred ( Jackson Doran ) Christmas party. When his long-dead business Jacob Marley ( JQ ) visits to warn him he will be visited by three spirits, Scrooge greets his redemption kicking and screaming.
Directors GQ and JQ take full advantage of The Yard's ability to transform. Scott Davis' set remains a Christmas light-decked thrust, but rather than surround the actors with stadium seating, the directors and designer had cabaret tables installed, lending a marvelous club energy to the performance. It allows the audience to view the show as a concert where anything can happen. Hoogenakker runs through the tables greeting viewers at the end of the show and, throughout, the Q Brothers wink and nod at audience members who are getting into their groove.
The Q Brothers make a fantastic ensemble, each man jumping from character to character in A Christmas Carol with humor and dedication. It is particularly fun to see Pringle have to play Cratchit and his daughter Martha in the same scene, using the excuse of smelling what's cooking to hide his face from the audience and play both voices. JQ plays Tiny Tim as a pint-sized emcee in the making, and his Ghost of Christmas Present pokes fun at Macklemore without dragging the guy. Doran is a lot of fun as Scrooge's burnout friend Dick, and he radiates good cheer as Fred. Hoogenakker is a delightfully sour nerd, and it is to the actor's credit that we easily perceive the hidden grief that is often only hinted at in Scrooge's backstory.
On the whole, JQ's musical choices are inspired, with the Ghost of Christmas Past combining shades of Run DMC, LL Cool J, and earlier impresarios, while Scrooge develops smoother and more complicated stretches of rhyme over time. The only odd decision is Jacob Marley's performance of reggae music, mostly because it's a one-note joke on his name. But in a story that provides solid holiday cheer, a bit of anarchy, and a lot of heart, there's little to complain aboutand much more to celebrate.