Co-created by the inimitable Lin Manuel Miranda, alongside Anthony Veneziale and Thomas Kail, the content of hip-hop improv comedy show “Freestyle Love Supreme” might be brand-new every single night—but the exceptionally talented cast knows exactly what they’re doing.
Although FSL first appeared on Broadway just last year and launched its national tour in January, the roots go back, way back, before Miranda was a household name. He certainly wasn’t an unknown, though—reportedly, the concept of the show began to take shape in 2004 during rehearsal breaks for “In the Heights,” Miranda’s first Broadway musical. You might recognize some other names that have graced the group, including Tony Award-winners and -nominees Wayne Brady, Daveed Diggs, James Monroe Inglehart,and Christopher Jackson. The latter, who originated the role of George Washington in “Hamilton” and is a founding member of FSL, is making a special appearance by returning to the show at the Kennedy Center.
…when Bancroft noted their final song, I was shocked that it was already over…phenomenal…
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.
So, what to expect from FSL? Well, that depends on who else is in the audience. You see, the group has a stash of “games” in their arsenal, such as “Second Chance,” where they ask an audience member to share a traumatic moment from their childhood (we’re not talking real trauma here; it’s the kind you can poke fun at) and what they could have done differently. Then, on a whim, the group turns that “trauma” into a comedic hip-hop performance, first reliving it and then giving a second chance at what should have happened. Even the lighting director, Andrew Garvis, is ready to improv the stage lights on a moment’s notice.
The suggestions from the audience are, as expected, timely, topical and very D.C. “What do you hate?” asks Bancroft, and not unexpectedly, the first answer was a member of the Supreme Court. (Yes, I’ll admit that I yelled out “295!” when this was asked, my atrocious 1.5-hour commute that morning still lingering in the back of my mind.)
“What do you really like?” he asked a bit later. Women’s rights, of course, was the answer. While FSL didn’t dive deep into politics nor did they steer clear, choosing the word “democracy” as the foundation of one song, and the result was gripping.
The show runs nearly two hours, and there’s no intermission—and, yet, when Bancroft noted their final song, I was shocked that it was already over. If you have tickets for “Freestyle Love Supreme,” whether in D.C. or in another city, you won’t see the same show as me. But I have no doubt in my mind that what you will see will be as phenomenal—and just as uproarious—as what I was so lucky to experience.
Running time: Approximately one hour and 55 minutes with no intermssion.
“Freestyle Love Supreme” runs through May 15, 2022 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit The Kennedy Center website.