By Grace Ferolo
The rap collective is a significant fixture in our ongoing pandemic zeitgeist because it satisfies two universal (if contradictory) desires: power through self-sufficiency, and community. We now know the incredible things we’re capable of in isolation, and yet, we constantly seek to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Award-winning and internationally acclaimed theater artists, The Q Brothers Collective, deliver on both fronts with the return of their hip-hop holiday hit, Q Brothers Christmas Carol. The show stars the collective’s five core members (GQ, JQ, Postell Pringle, Jackson Duran, and DJ Clayton Stamper) and is playing at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. Information on the show’s plot and cast can be found here. Coining the term “ad-rap-tation” in 1999 with their Off-Broadway hit, The Bomb-bitty of Errors, the Q Brothers are no strangers to reinventing the classics. The rap collective shines in its ability to remove pretension from classic theater, like Shakespeare’s Othello, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo & Juliet, with a comedic sensibility and modern-day vernacular that disarms and envelops audience members of all ages. Like any grade-school mnemonic device, the Q Brothers have the distinct ability to translate complex works into language that people can latch onto and remember. Q/Carol mirrors the five-stave structure of Dickens’ original novella, but with modern twists, of course. We’re introduced to Scrooge (GQ), a lonely millionaire whose present companionship includes a Google Home-like presence named Dilbert and a sack of money whom he lovingly refers to as “Sacky-Wacky.” GQ is certainly the Scrooge-y curmudgeon we would expect, but he uses his quick tongue and slinky physicality to pick up the pace and kick up the humor, especially as he steps back in time to play his younger and more idealistic self. Postell Pringle shares this versatility in his portrayal of Bob Cratchit and his daughter, Martha. (In the same scene, no less.) The Q Brothers’ knack for reimagination is fueled by their innate draw to and talent for improvisation. With three out of five cast members also performing with The Rap Pack, a comedic hip-hop group based out of Chicago, it’s obvious why the production feels so freestyle. At unsuspecting points throughout the show, cast members draw attention to the fact that they’ve been improvising, which comes at a shock to audience members who’ve been watching them fly through the eighty-minute run time. This freedom of play is also apparent in the score’s genre-fluid sonic choices; mixing everything from reggae to dancehall to epic rock ballads. Also, a la Hamilton, the Q Brothers challenge historical retelling with modern-day self-awareness that teeters between biting and funny. At the top of the show, for example, the company sings of all the holiday traditions they’re looking forward to as Christmas Day approaches, until JQ enters and calls out the pervasive hypocrisy so many of us look past during this time of year: “Why are we bombing brown people? Jesus was a brown man … but I’m still gonna celebrate on Christmas Day.” In a 2013 interview with Fuse, Kendrick Lamar proudly spoke of his lesser-known but beloved rap collective, Black Hippy: “It’s not just one artist or two artists, it’s a collective, an actual label that’s family at the end of the day… We all wanna see each other win.” While the Q Brothers have been enormously dedicated to their art for over two decades, the driving force behind this work ethic is, in fact, family. Visit the rap collective’s Bandcamp, where the Q/Carol album is available for digital purchase. Among other uses (twenty percent will “feed the hungry and homeless in Chicago”), the group says, “By supporting us, you are really supporting our combined seven children (so far), who are all getting ready to take over the world and make it way better than we ever did.” Quoth Lamar: “We all wanna see each other win.” If Scrooge, in a Christmas miracle, can scrounge up a win, anything is possible. Q Brothers Christmas Carol runs through December 23rd at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. For tickets or more information, please call (312) 595-5600 or visit chicagoshakes.com. Photos by Liz Lauren and joe mazza – bravelux.