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Review: Hip-Hop Improv FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME Dazzles With Verbal Dexterity

The only part of FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME that doesn't bounce off an audience response comes at the very beginning when four voices announce a "mic check" and standard phrases like "mic one check" and "this is microphone two" get extended into a frenetic off-the-cuff mixture of words, rhythms and beats.

Freestyle Love Supreme
Chris Sullivan, Christopher Jackson,
Anthony Veneziale and Utkarsh Ambudkar
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

With its moniker giving a nod to John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," the fast and funny improv hip-hop show created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail and Anthony Veneziale started playing one-night performances around town way back during Broadway's pre-rap era.

Kail directs the new 75-minute showcase at the intimate Greenwich House Theater where Veneziale (a/k/a Two Touch), emcees as part of an ensemble that includes Chris Sullivan (Shockwave), who specializes in providing a remarkable assortment of beats and sound effects, and the especially quick-witted Utkarsh Ambudkar (UTK the INC.).

Andrew Bancroft (Jelly Donut) took the show off when this reviewer attended because each member of the quartet takes turns rotating out to allow for one of the four guest celebrities to join in. In this case it was Christopher Jackson (C-Jack), but on other nights it could be Daveed Diggs (Mr. Diggs), James Monroe Iglehart (J-Soul) or Miranda himself (Lin-Man).

Instrumentalists Arthur Lewis (Arthur the Geniuses) and Bill Sherman (King Sherman) are at keyboards and beats, though Ian Weinberger was filling in for the latter.

Before the performance, audience members are asked to jot down a word on a piece of paper and place it in a hat. This provides the vocabulary for a lighting round solo where the guest artist is rapidly fed contributions at random for some immediate rhyming.

From then on, the structure of each sequence gradually gets more complex. A request for the names of people you admire drew shouts of names like Serena Williams, AOC and Tom Brady (not a popular choice in this crowd), but when a fellow responded, "My wife," Ambudkar nabbed it for a few verses about "that dude's wife."

Freestyle Love Supreme
Chris Sullivan and Utkarsh Ambudkar
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Audience members interviewed for details about their day or about an event they regret fuel extended improvs where the fellows act out full scenarios in rhyme. An unexpectedly poignant moment came when the question "Who could you not have done without?" drew the response "My mom." Lewis, whose mom had passed on just recently, stepped up front to provide vocals as the guys all shared memories of their own mothers.

It was in that sequence where the affection and camaraderie between the fellows really shined. Although the quick riffs off of topics such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recent "bad guy" presentation and the headlines concerning Jeff Bezos ("He's a billionaire at least we can stand.") provide great laughs (and admiration for how current these guys have to stay to deepen their frames of reference) it's the enormous trust and teamwork on display that makes Freestyle Love Supreme such a pleasure to watch.

And, because everyone's cell phone is required to be kept in a locked pouch upon entering the auditorium (you take it with you to your seat) there's the added pleasure of not being disrupted by ringing or texting throughout the performance.

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From This Author - Michael Dale