Before launching its national tour in 2022, the incomparable improv musical sensation Freestyle Love Supreme has made its return to Broadway for a limited engagement at the Booth Theatre, after an acclaimed run in 2019, becoming the subject of the 2020 Grammy-nominated Hulu documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme, and receiving a Special Tony Award this Fall. But even if you’re fully aware of all the well-deserved accolades, and even if you’ve seen it before, you will still be astonished by this one-of-a-kind show and its amazing troupe of creators/performers. There is simply nothing like it.
First conceived more than seventeen years ago by Anthony Veneziale and created with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail (who also directs), the original flow of hip-hop, storytelling, vocals, and comedy presents a fast-paced non-stop structure of segments based on spontaneous prompts solicited from the audience and devised on the spot by an ingenious rotating principal cast. On the night I attended, the company consisted of co-founding FLS member Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan, Aneesa “Young Nees” Folds, and Tarik “Tardis Hardaway” Davis, led by the engaging “Two-Touch” Veneziale, with conductor Kurt “The Lord and Lady Crowley” and Ian “Berger Time” Weinberger on keyboards.
Audience participation is a central feature of the show, as is the team’s rapport with the house and with each other, and everyone delivered beyond expectation. Veneziale’s highly entertaining direct-address welcome and thanks, and hilarious conversations with volunteers from the enthusiastic crowd, brought camaraderie, joy, and laughter to the proceedings, as attendees submitted words before curtain time via digital scan, and shouted out their answers to his live in-person requests for verbs, what they love, what they don’t, what in their life they’d like to do over, and what they did that day.
The responses were then woven into impromptu musical rhymes, rhythms, and narratives by the company, both individually and as a group (without taking notes or communicating with one another), in extraordinary feats of instant creativity and memory. It’s as if their brains were wired together, their thoughts melded, or their ideas transmitted telepathically. Fortunately for me, the audience is required to be masked for the entirety of the show, so no one was able to see my mouth agape (“Whaaaaaat???”) innumerable times throughout their jaw-dropping performance.
Along with their expert talents and obvious love of hip-hop improv, the FLS squad also contributed their own specific skill-sets, from the powerhouse vocals of Young Nees, to Shockwave’s masterful beatbox vocal percussion, to the irresistible comedic timing and affecting personal revelations of Tardis Hardaway. The show is enhanced by a backdrop wall of speakers (set design by Beowulf Boritt), clear sound (by Nevin Steinberg), colorful lighting (by Jeff Croiter), and current streetwear (costumes by Lisa Zinni), for a totally of-the-moment event.
Because of the improvisational nature of Freestyle Love Supreme, no two shows are ever the same, so you can go again and again for a completely different experience each time. And special celebrity guests (including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, James Monroe Iglehart, Wayne Brady, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Arthur Lewis, Bill Sherman, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Alex Lacamoire) are planned for select unannounced dates, so you never know who’ll be there on any given night. Even if the other performances aren’t half as good as the one I saw, they’d still be absolutely phenomenal, so be sure to catch this while you can.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, without intermission.
Freestyle Love Supreme plays through Sunday, January 2, 2022, at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets, go online. All patrons must be fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine, must show proof of vaccination and matching photo ID upon entry into the theater, and are required to wear a mask at all times.