Review Roundup: FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME Hits the Road; What Are the Critics Saying?

The show kicked off in San Francisco last month and will travel throughout the country for the rest of this year.

By: Feb. 09, 2022
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Freestyle Love Supreme

Following a successful limited Broadway engagement this fall that included a 2020 Special Tony Award, improv sensation Freestyle Love Supreme, conceived by Anthony Veneziale and created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale, is now on tour!

Created before In the Heights and Hamilton and directed by Kail, Freestyle Love Supreme is a thrilling, improvised musical comedy show that features talented performers providing non-stop action throughout this fast-paced evening, spinning suggestions from the audience into humorous bits, instantaneous songs and riffs, and fully realized musical numbers. The electrifying vocals of the performers - from singing to rapping to beat-boxing with harmonies and freestyle flow - are backed by tight tunes from keyboards and human percussion. The show is created live every night with the audience contributing words, ideas and inspiration. No two shows are ever the same.

The show kicked off in San Francisco last month and will travel throughout the country for the rest of this year.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Geary Theatre - San Francisco, CA

Steve Murray, BroadwayWorld: With the aid of two keyboardists (James Rushin and Richard Baskin Jr.) , the MCs of the show create fully realized numbers using audience suggestions backed by beatbox and human percussion. Show co-creator Anthony Veneziale, aka Two Touch, keeps the shows structure moving along: 'a random word', 'things we dislike', 'a headline drawn from your past', 'a word you love and can't live without' and the finale of 'share your day'.

Charles Lewis III, 48Hills: This particular cast creates a series of bars that do indeed integrate the suggestions, but leave much to be desired in terms of lyrical stylings. This not-too-diverse ensemble isn't as stylish on the mic as their Pulitzer-winning founding member. Not having seen Miranda's original version, I can only speculate that the proud Nuyorican worked with more BIPoC who had each had a more natural flow.

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: The real world may be a dark place right now but this Broadway hit is a light-hearted jam that's all about capturing the poetry of the everyday. Created by college buddies Lin-Manuel Miranda, famed for "Hamilton" and "In The Heights," Anthony Veneziale and Thomas Kail (who also directs) this feel-good lark revels in the messiness, unpredictability and magic of rap, and life.

Lily Janiak, Datebook: But the show's breakout star is Aneesa Folds, a.k.a. Young Nees, whose gale-force pipes and sweeping vocal range would be plenty of artistry on their own. To her record-deal-ready singing she adds acute comic judgment, landing one of opening night's first big jokes. From an audience member's suggested pet peeve of "vegan girlfriend," she wondered if a particular sexual act would fall within the woman's dietary restrictions.

Seattle Repertory Theatre - Seattle, WA

Jerald Pierce, Seattle Times: To their credit, all of the performers make it look incredibly easy. Perhaps none more so than Veneziale himself and Chris Sullivan (aka "Shockwave"), who are both heavily featured in "We Are Freestyle Love Supreme," the documentary detailing the early days of the show's inception (currently streaming on Hulu). Of course, every line isn't a gem and there are moments where an idea so fills a performer's head that it spills out of the rapid meter, resulting in a rhyme falling a split second late.

Jay Irwin, BroadwayWorld: We went through a rather varied set of suggestions making the evening quite rich and hilarious. Everything from crows following people to slalom skiers to murderous Russian Blues to one woman's harrowing tale of stranger danger from her youth. We had it all. And each suggestion expertly crafted into killer raps right before our very eyes. And lest you say, "oh, but I don't like improv", to which I say, "then you haven't seen good improv". To watch these insanely talented people pull these hysterical tales, right out of mid-air is a joy and to watch them do it in rap is a mind blower.

Emerson Colonial Theatre - Boston, MA

Jacquinn Sinclair, wbur: While each cast member shines throughout, Folds' vocal prowess is most impressive during the segment in which each performer did a riff on the word "graduation." Jelly Donut struggled a little here, but in a way, his momentary difficulty lends to the show's authenticity.

Kathy Scrizzi Driscoll, Cape Cod Times: Treat yourself because you will laugh; you will marvel at the talent, imagination and quick thinking; and you will feel a sense of camaraderie and community from the good-natured audience participation. We were told sets and costumes didn't show up in time for the Boston opening but they were not missed.

Portland Center Stage - Portland, OR

Krista Garver, BroadwayWorld: Then, the show started, and for the next 90ish minutes, I was in paradise. There was someone in the audience who had seen FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME more than 60(!) times. Many shows have their rabid fans, but I never understood them before. I do now. FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME is a joyous celebration of music and life and the act of creating something together. It warmed me from the inside-out on that cold and rainy night, and if I have the chance to see it again, or even 59 more times, I will be there.

Kennedy Center - Washington, DC

Hilary Sutton, DC Theater Arts: Seeing Christopher Jackson plucked out of his Washington uniform and freestyling is a particular delight. It's just fun to see someone whose talents you already admire in musical theater and television pull out other skills you've never seen him flex before. Then there was young Morgan Reilly, the freakishly talented singer and rapper who confidently led two segments of the show where the cast retold a story from an audience member. She also skillfully welcomed the season ticket holders by paying homage to a few musical theater classics mid-skit. Ah yes, she is our people.

Thomas Floyd, Washington Post: Although master of ceremonies Andrew Bancroft (stage name: Jelly Donut) emphasized at Tuesday night's show that every performance of "Freestyle Love Supreme" is unpredictable, this Tony-winning show still feels guaranteed to leave patrons tapping their toes, laughing uncontrollably and marveling at the sheer talent onstage. Converting audience suggestions into quick riffs, spoken-word monologues and full-length musical numbers, the performers pull off a special kind of magic trick. You know exactly how they're doing it - with vocal prowess and nimble minds - but seeing, and hearing, still isn't believing.

Kelsey Casselbury, MD Theatre Guide: Despite Jackson's (or, as he's known in FSL, C-Jack) fame, he wasn't the performer who stood out the most during the nearly two-hour improv show. That honor would go to Morgan Reilly, aka Hummingbird, who seems to have it all, from impeccable comedic skills to a voice that astonishes. However, Andrew Bancroft (Jelly Doughnut), who served as a sort of emcee for the night, was quite a delight, and the beatboxing talents of Kaila Mullady, or "Kaiser Rözé"-well, I don't know how to describe it, so I'll just say she's a two-time world beatboxing champion and leave it at that. Guest Dizzy Senze was also in the house, bringing some down-to-Earth feels into her improv raps.

Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts - Detroit, MI

Robert Nesti, Edge Media Network: In some ways, "Freestyle Love Supreme" is a bit like an illusionist act and, similarly, unfolds in a series of skit-like sequences in which audience feedback is turned into musical theater. Take the moment a female audience member related how her eight-year-old self had stuck a penny in a socket when egged on by her older sister. From that info the ensemble built a hilarious scenario that re-imagined the event with a pair of different endings linked with a clever bit of staging when the cast went into rewind - recreating their moves in reverse. Later, in the evening's most personal section, the performers sat on stools and reflected their personal experiences around the word "graduation," which included a passionately felt one from Ellis. And while this particular sequence will never be repeated, the cast shows they are capable of something equally authentic at a future outing.

The Old Globe - San Diego, CA

E.H. Reiter, BroadwayWorld: The alchemy of the changing cast and the new nightly audiences means that no show is the same. The opening request s simple, and they ask for a verb to act as the anchor for their first improv moment. Once the audience is more comfortable, it gradually escalates from things you love and hate to the more challenging full recap of an audience member's day. The performers also give examples of what not to provide, since some things seem to be more universal answers like things you can't live without "avocado," "pets," or something you hate like "inflation."

Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune: Wednesday's host was Andrew "Jelly Donut" Bancroft, an affable leader with a steel-trap memory for audience suggestions. Jay C. "Jellis J" Ellis was lightning-quick with his very funny and occasionally R-rated raps, including his comparison of the word "Microsoft" to a part of the male anatomy. Singer Morgan "Hummingbird" Reilly could turn any words - from "seasoned croutons" to "turning 30" - into multi-octave melismatic riffs. Emcee-rapper "Dizzy" Senze churned out rhyming verse in seconds from word suggestions ranging from "cowbell" to "cantankerous." Beatboxers Mark "Mandible" Martin and Kaila "Kaiser Rözé" Mullady created a stunning aural soundscape with only their mouths, and two musicians - pianist Victoria "Gigawatts" Theodore and James "Shifty Hills" Rushin - improvised the beat-heavy score on the spot.

Pasadena Community Playhouse - Pasadena, CA

Chris Willman, Variety: But on the basis of opening night, anyway, this seems like an an easy call as a can't-miss for L.A.-area comedy fans - regardless of whether Veneziale's exit from his long turn with "Freestyle" signals any kind of end of the road for the troupe. (It shouldn't, since director Kail probably isn't going anywhere.) Even if the remaining shows go for pure, impetuous slapstick and there's not a wet eye in the house, the rewards are likely to be worth it. You may say of some other theatrical productions that you wish you could see it every night, but the no-two-snowflakes nature of this one might make you literally and un-hyperbolically wish the show offered a season pass option.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: "Freestyle Love Supreme" is more earnest than edgy. Rap's sense of urgency, derived from exposing raw social truths and fearlessly bucking the status quo, is neutered. The audience is jollied along by Veneziale with polite puckishness.

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