Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think Of FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME Off-Broadway?
FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME features six talented performers providing non-stop action throughout this fast-paced evening, spinning cues 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.
FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME features Andrew Bancroft AKA "Jelly Donut," Arthur Lewis AKA "Arthur The Geniuses," Bill Sherman AKA "King Sherman," Chris Sullivan AKA "Shockwave," Anthony Veneziale AKA "Two-Touch," and Utkarsh Ambudkar AKA "UTK."
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Jesse Green, The New York Times: If the words and action are unfailingly surprising, the music is more predictable, mostly bluesy chords that allow the improvisers to spin out noodles of melody. (On Saturday, the rappers were accompanied on keyboards by Arthur Lewis and Ian Weinberger, while the astonishing Chris Sullivan provided additional sound effects with just mouth and microphone.) Even so, when the lyrics and melody land in the same emotional place at the same moment, the sensation of great depth is like that of any good song, multiplied here by the difficulty factor.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Directed by Kail - a Tony winner for Hamilton and an Emmy winner for Grease Live!, currently at work on the upcoming FX series Fosse/Verdon - the show proves fast, furious, funny and wildly entertaining. It is also blissfully free from distractions, since audience members are required to deposit their cellphones in sealed pouches upon entering the auditorium. The minor hassle was easily offset by the opportunity to concentrate fully on the performers, whose amazingly quick-thinking deserves nothing less.
Matt Windman, amNY: The improvised rapping was both verbally sharp and musically robust, with the lead vocalists aided by human percussive effects and keyboardists providing bass and melody, while the tone alternated between broadly comic and genuinely heartfelt.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: It's fascinating to see the origins of his highly distinctive rap vocabulary, and to admire the on-your-feet way its exponents interact intuitively with each other to create brand-new soundscapes and instant lyrics in response to audience suggestions and scenarios. But for all the bravado, ingenuity and skill on display, it's hard to shake off the sense that the performers at times seem to be having even more fun than the audience. More than one improvisational set piece outstays its welcome and there's also a disconcerting male air to it all, with no women in the company at all.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: There wasn't a whole lot the team could do with this material, though Michael's resemblance to Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future was noted, so at least there were a couple of good DeLorean jokes. In staging the brunch scene, Miranda offered, "This is hip-hop as fuck." Which it wasn't. But in its brainy, goofy, geeky, gleefully hyper way, maybe Freestyle Love Supreme is.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: But don't be bummed if Miranda (aka Lin-Man) isn't at your show. Yes, it's pretty cool to see him in his element-The word is highlighter...go! Algorithm...go! But the FLS crew is pretty tight: Veneziale, the evening's lightning-quick-on-the-uptake host; Chris "Shockwave" Sullivan, who's essentially a one-man percussion section/sound factory (his instrumental-read: vocal-riff on the word sauté, which ended with serving up a fried kitten, was priceless); keyboardists Arthur "Arthur the Geniuses" Lewis, who also lent his smooth vocals to the aforementioned "Vibrator" song and guest musician Ian Weinberger; and, especially, Ambudkar, an actor/rapper who you might know from the film Pitch Perfect or TV's The Mindy Project, and plays such as Animals Out of Paper and Modern Terrorism.
Elysa Gardner. New York Stage Review: But Freestyle Love Supreme is, without question, an exuberant crowd-pleaser that's sure to get your mind off whatever's bothering you-if you're lucky enough to score a ticket.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Conceived by Anthony Veneziale and created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Veneziale, and directed by Kail, the rap-based show, first staged in 2004, predates Hamilton and In The Heights, the show which first bought Miranda to Broadway. The three shows share the same bite, originality, and absolute charm. Here, improvised hip-hop, song, and movement are made thrillingly universal through audience participation.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: "Freestyle Love Supreme" is the brainchild of Miranda, musical improv guru Anthony Veneziale and Thomas Kail, the Tony-winning director of "Hamilton." It's a delightfully wit-laced evening of comedy rap devised on the spot by a tight cadre of performers, backed by a pair of equally deft instrumentalists - a kind of hip-hop version of the popular comedian-stocked game show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
David Cote, Observer: If this doesn't seem amusing, I'm not apologizing: You had to be there. So be there. And yet, I can't recommend the show I saw; it's gone. The minute Shockwave spits a series of plosive lip-smacks and glottals out a wikki-wikki vinyl scratch, or UTR spins a gender-balanced tract out of a mother's embarrassing memory, and C-Jack shares a long, adorable confession about trying to reduce his kids' device time, this show is already disappearing into history. Audience members are asked to deposit their phones in a lockable Yondr pouch when they enter the space. It's not just because producers want to avoid people filming the show and posting on social media. (I certainly could have used a recording to transcribe some numbers.) But there's a deeper reason for it: You should be present, in the room and in the moment, because that night of lyrical, comical, syncopated genius will soon be mere air.