Five Reasons Why Freestyle Love Supreme is a Welcome Change for Broadway
By: Iris Wiener
October 8, 2019: Before there was Hamilton and In the Heights there was Freestyle Love Supreme. An improvisation extravaganza created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale in 2004, the powerhouse team’s Freestyle Love Supreme combines music, humor, hip-hop and theatrics in an experience completely unique to any work ever to hit Broadway. Fresh and invigorating in its concept and execution, here is how it sticks out from the rest of what theater has to offer:
1. The cast varies at every performance, and often features special guests. Veneziale leads a slate of performers including (at this reviewer’s performance) fellow rappers Utkarsh Ambudkar and Aneesa Folds; beatboxers Kaila Mullady and Chris Sullivan; and two multitalented keyboardists, Arthur Lewis and Bill Sherman. While Miranda is known to stop by his playground of percussive poets, this particular experience featured the exceptional stylings of Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Kinky Boots’Wayne Brady.
2. A ban on electronic devices demands that the audience be present. One of a few reasons to get to the Booth Theater early (see #3) is to allow time to have phones and electronic devices stowed in Yondr pouches, mechanisms that remain locked and in their owner’s possession throughout the show. They can only be unlocked upon leaving the theater, allowing audiences to truly be in the moment (and not distracting theatergoers around them with rude behavior).
3. The audience helps to create the show. Whether audience members are tasked with writing random words on cards to be used in the performance (get there early to participate in this exercise) or shouting the name of things that they hate, they are setting the stage for numbers entirely built around their suggestions. The audience gets personal, offering embarrassing anecdotes that will then be re-enacted and made into the basis for entertaining bits too good to spoil here.
4. There is no script and anything can happen. It may sound cliché, but nothing is further from the truth. Case in point: A woman hilariously shared the experience of having her picture taken without consent, only to have her fiancée discover her face transposed on a Playboy model weeks later. Her back and forth repartee with Veneziale was epically personal and joyous (despite the intrusiveness of the act itself which happened over forty years ago). Baring emotions is not one-sided at Freestyle Love Supreme; the performers share unbelievably intimate narratives with gusto, using suggested words from the audience (such as “grace”) to spin spur-of-the-moment reflections of their own about failed marriages (Brady), familial connections (Folds) and life-affirming moments (Diggs).
5. The talent is unprecedented. Beatboxing on Broadway? You don’t need instruments when you have Chris Sullivan on hand to provide a percussive soundtrack that is mesmerizing and strikingly hypnotic in all of its brilliance. Veneziale and Ambudkar are especially intuitive, referencing gags from previous numbers (the word “enigma” and a take on female cramps saw smart allusions), intertwining them at impeccably paced moments that exude hilarity and prove their sensational abilities with their crafts. Thanks to the extraordinary minds on stage, the tone of the show is always light, lacking judgement, and full of, well…freestyle love.
Freestyle Love Supreme
222 West 45 Street
8o Minutes, with no Intermission
Photography: Joan Marcus