‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ brings magic to the Kennedy Center

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It’s fair to tell you up front that if Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name is attached, I’m not predisposed to dislike it. I arrive ready to have fun (whether on Disney+, Netflix or the Kennedy Center).

So when I heard that Freestyle Love Supreme, the “original hip hop musical phenomenon” founded by Miranda, Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale in 2004 (pre-In the heights and very pre-hamilton) was getting a Broadway run produced by its own founding members, I got the impression. Young creatives doing good and bringing their passion project to the Great White Way? We like to see it. And now he’s made his way to the Kennedy Center.

That’s all I have to say about the Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Chris Sullivan, Wayne Brady, Anthony Veneziale, Aneesa Folds and Kurt Crowley (on keyboards) in “Freestyle Love Supreme”. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Being a project adjacent to Miranda, Freestyle Love Supreme interested me, but my enthusiasm here is based on my experience in the room last night. And spoiler: Lin-Manuel Miranda was not there.

The show is a hundred minutes of airy, well-paced hip-hop and improvisation. No intermission to drag things out. Right off the bat, when Chris Jackson proclaims Wednesday is “the new Friday,” it’s clear the audience is in good hands and we’re going to have a great time.

It is led by a team of three animators: Andrew Bancroft “Jelly Donut”, Morgan Reilly “Hummingbird” and Christopher Jackson “C-Jack”. Kaila Mullady “Kaiser Rözé”, who was declared the best beatboxer in the world not once but twice, provides percussion. Guest Dizzy Senze “Dizzy” appears as a fourth president to join the team. The performers are supported by instrumentalists Simone Acosta and James Rushin.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kaila Mullady, Anthony Veneziale, Aneesa Folds and Kurt Crowley (on keyboards) in “Freestyle Love Supreme”. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Before the show even begins, the public is invited to submit words via a QR code to be used in the program. The cast takes the stage with a lot of energy. The audience is having fun because the actors are having fun. Each of the hosts contributes both hilarious and poignant moments. Words chosen from Wednesday’s performance included shocking, oat milk, men, and democracy. Some benign and others a little triggering. They all keep the audience engaged.

Seeing Christopher Jackson ripped out of his Washington uniform and freestyling is a special treat. It’s just fun to watch someone whose talents in musical theater and television you already admire pull off other skills you’ve never seen them flex before. Then there was young Morgan Reilly, the creepily talented singer and rapper who confidently led two segments of the show where the cast told a story from an audience member. She also skilfully welcomed season subscribers by paying homage to a few classic musical comedy sketches. Ah yes, she is our people.

Andrew Bancroft, aka “Jelly Donut”, set the tone for the evening. He laid down the ground rules, breaking the fourth wall with the audience, educating us on what we need to know about the world of Freestyle Love Supreme. His particular skill was weaving jokes between the audience and the actors and bringing them back several times throughout the night. Honestly, why didn’t we have a group hug at the end?

The talent on stage during a Freestyle Love Supreme spectacle cannot be overstated. Rapping, singing, comedy, storytelling, listening, rhyming, thinking fast, and doing it all on the fly in front of a live audience is truly an impressive skill set.

Tarik Davis, Kaila Mullady, Andrew Bancroft, Ian Weinberger (on keyboards) and James Monroe Iglehart) in “Freestyle Love Supreme”. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Kennedy Center is rolling out its first full season since 2019. The season has a bit of time capsule energy. These are all the shows that we theater loyalists were looking forward to, say, three years ago. And the magic of being in the room during a live performance is still not normal. It still looks like a rare gem. So when you dial in that special live performance energy and then multiply it with the unique schtick and no two alike nights that comes with improv and freestyle, the magic is palpable.

Freestyle Love Supreme is at the Kennedy Center until May 15 and it brings the magic of improv, the magic of the live band, the magic of audience interaction, the magic of comedy, and the magic of Chris Jackson. Honestly, if I didn’t have two kids at home, I’d probably try to find a way to get back to the Eisenhower this weekend. It’s just fun. Don’t miss it.

Duration: 1h50 without intermission.

Freestyle Love Supreme runs through Sunday, May 15, 2022 at the Eisenhower Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets ($45 to $135), buy in person at the Kennedy Center box office, call (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or drop by in line.

the Freestyle Love Supreme the program is available online here.

COVID safety: Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend all performances and indoor events at the Kennedy Center through May 14. Masks are required for all patrons, regardless of vaccination status, inside all theaters during performances at the Kennedy Center, unless actively eating or drinking. The Kennedy Center’s comprehensive COVID safety plan is here.

FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME’s touring company includes Andrew Bancroft aka “Jelly Donut”; Richard Baskin, Jr. aka “Rich Midway”; Jay C. Ellis aka “Jellis J;” Aneesa Folds AKA “Young Nees”; Mark Martin aka “Mandible”; Kaila Mullady aka “Kaiser Rözé;” Morgan Reilly aka “Hummingbird”; James Rushin aka “Not Draggin;” Dizzy Senze AKA Dizzy; Chris Sullivan aka “Shockwave;” and Anthony Veneziale aka “Two Touch”.

FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME is produced by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jenny and Jon Steinart and Jill Furman. It features set design by Beowulf Boritt; costume design by Lisa Zinni; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; and sound design by Nevin Steinberg.

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