Before there was “Hamilton” and back when “In the Heights” was still being developed, actor/songwriter/soon-to-be-superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda, future "In the Heights" and "Hamilton" director Tommy Kail and musician Anthony Veneziale created "Freestyle Love Supreme," a quirky, high-energy, all-male vocal ensemble that combined improvisational comedy with hip-hop.
Beginning in 2003, "Freestyle Love Supreme" (named in honor of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”) made one-night appearances at New York venues such as the People’s Improv Theater, the basement theater of the Drama Book Shop and Ars Nova. A “Freestyle Love Supreme” TV show was even filmed and can be accessed online.
In a first, "Freestyle Love Supreme" is now playing a multi-week, virtually sold-out Off-Broadway run at Greenwich House in the West Village.
It should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely aware of Miranda’s post-“Hamilton” multiplicity of projects that he will not be appearing at each and every performance of the Off-Broadway run.
However, Miranda and some other “Hamilton” veterans (including Christopher Jackson, James Monroe Iglehart and Daveed Diggs) will show up from time to time as surprise guests. Miranda is also confirmed to take part in a benefit performance on March 3.
The group currently comprises Veneziale (a.k.a. “Two Touch”), Chris Sullivan (a.k.a. “Shockwave”), Utkarsh Ambudkar (a.k.a. “Utk the Inc”) and Andrew Bancroft (a.k.a. “Jelly Donut”), along with music supervisors Arthur Lewis (a.k.a. “Arthur the Geniuses”) and Bill Sherman (a.k.a. “King Sherman”).
Jackson, the original George Washington in "Hamilton," was a special guest at the early evening performance last Saturday.
The 75-minute show consisted of spontaneous riffs and impressively elaborate raps based on audience suggestions.
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.
Audience suggestions at my performance included “celebrate," Jeff Bezos, Wakanda and “my mom." A young woman was picked out of the audience and asked to detail her day up to that point, which in turn became a one-act musical. Another woman’s story of tripping on the sidewalk on her birthday became a time-traveling drama about the need to look up from one’s cell phone.
Speaking of cell phones, audience members were required to deposit their devices into lockable pouches as they took their seats. Needless to say, not a single phone rang during my performance. Perhaps more producers and theaters should consider this rigid but clearly effective solution.
If you go: “Freestyle Love Supreme” runs at Greenwich House through March 3. 27 Barrow St., freestylelovesupreme.com.