It’s December, which means countless stage adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol are being produced all over the country. None of them, however, is quite like A Q Brothers Christmas Carol, currently in production, as it has been annually for several years now, at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Developed by the Q Brothers Collective, this hip-hop-infused version of the classic Christmas tale is part sendup, part sincere, and all fun.
The basic shape of the story here is exactly as you remember it: the miserly Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and as a result, changes his miserly ways. The details of the execution, however, are what make it stand out. Scrooge’s deceased business partner Jacob Marley appears as a parody of Bob Marley, complete with a reggae song about Scrooge’s upcoming ghostly visitors. Tiny Tim is reimagined as Lil’ Tim, a young aspiring rapper with a comically long list of illnesses. Fezziwig becomes Fezzy, owner of a wig shop. And all these characters are portrayed by just four performers, the uniquely talented members of the Q Brothers Collective: GQ, JQ, Jax, and Pos. The multiple casting is successfully played for comedic effect at times, like when JQ swaps within the same scene between Marley and love interest Belle, which had me in stitches.
While absurdity abounds (and serves as the source of much laughter), the script is actually remarkably polished. The hip-hop theme of the show is expressed in both song and dialogue, with wordplay and rhymes densely packed into the show’s language. At times, the speed with which words are spoken, sung, and rapped threatened to overwhelm me, but it helps that the core story is familiar, so even if I missed a joke or two, I could still follow the broad strokes of what was happening. Also, my knowledge of hip-hop and rap begins and ends with Hamilton, so those more familiar with the genres will likely have an easier time.
Lighting design by Jesse Klug dazzles; I particularly enjoyed the strings of Christmas lights wrapped around the pillars framing the stage. Wigs by Melissa Veal help differentiate characters in a quick and charming way, as do costumes by Scott Davis. Choreography by Anacron is executed imperfectly but adds fun and energy to the performance.
The Q Brothers Collective gives A Christmas Carol a madcap makeover, but the essential message of the story remains the same: Christmas means caring for those in need. This performance, packed to the gills with music and hilarity, is perfect for both fans of the original story and those who’ve had enough of more traditional versions. A Q Brothers Christmas Carol comes highly recommended this holiday season.
Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 East Grand Avenue
Dates: December 7-23, 2021
Tickets: $38-56. Available now at www.chicagoshakes.com/qchristmas.