A musical that is entirely freestyle improv rap? I wouldn’t blame you for having doubts. I had them myself. But allow me to set your mind at ease.
Lover of “Hamilton?” Go see “Freestyle Love Supreme.” Lover of theater? Go see “Freestyle Love Supreme.” Hater of all things theater and lover of rap music? Go see “Freestyle Love Supreme.”
Originally conceived by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Anthony Veneziale, “Freestyle Love Supreme” is a improv, freestyle, comedic rap musical where no two performances are ever the same. Directed by Thomas Kail, the entire show is based on audience suggestions of different themes and words, allowing the performers to improv full-length, hilarious musical numbers about topics as mindless as oatmilk, the DC metro system, and online dating.
Andrew Bancroft stars as leader Jelly Donut as he moves the show along. While he takes audience suggestions, Bancroft manages to not only make improv more than the cliché “Name an occupation!” but throws in quite a bit of stand-up style humor as well. As he walks the audience through the process of how each musical number will be selected, two time world beatboxing champion Kaila Mullady (as Kaiser Rözé) steals the show behind him. Without missing a beat (no pun intended), Mullady accompanies the entire show and it’s on the spot creations so well, it’s hard to believe such sounds are coming from a person.
In addition to Bancroft, the show is led by Morgan Reilly (aka Hummingbird) and special guest and original founding member of “Freestyle Love Supreme” Christopher Jackson (aka C-Jack). Dizzy Senze (aka Dizzy) is also welcomed to the stage. The group is accompanied by instrumentalists Simone Acosta (aka Sims) and James Rushin (aka Shifty Hills).
Reilly steals the show not once but twice as she leads the group in two bold retellings of stories provided by audience members. As she mixes gorgeous vocal moments in with her hilarious freestyling, she does not shy away from including several clever odes to more traditional musical theater (her interpretation of a story about cats included a well-timed snippet of “Memory” after channeling her inner Regina George and watching the world burn for a story about fire).
Special guest Christopher Jackson is the other standout. Known for his starring role in “Hamilton” on Broadway, Jackson’s performance is a pleasant surprise. Met with thunderous applause (and quite a few professions of love from various audience members during the participation segments of the show), Jackson provides sweeter vocals that seamlessly blend with the rest of the rap-style music without overpowering the rest of the show.
As each cast member choses a word to rap about, the energy in the room grows. While the audience is hesitant at first, suggestions gradually get bolder and bolder (with some that could only come from a DC audience), with words like men, various Supreme Court Justices, and democracy taking center stage. This local flair only emphasizes the idea that no two versions of this show are the same.
The talented cast manages to maintain the synchronization required to pull off such a production without sacrificing humor or audience engagement. While you may not know what you’re going to get when you walk into the theater, “Freestyle Love Supreme” promises to be an unforgettable experience.
“Freestyle Love Supreme” runs at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts through May 15, 2022. The production runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission, and tickets can be purchased here. Please be advised that this production uses strobe lights and smoke effects.
Feature Photo: Left to Right: Kaila Mullady, Jay Ellis, Andrew Bancroft, Morgan Reilly
All photo credit to Joan Marcus.