Hip-hop, improv comedy, and live theater intersect with ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’

 By Beth Mack

April 21, 2022

Photo: Joan Marcus

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived his Broadway hip-hop smash hit Hamilton, he helped form a small hip-hop improv group in 2004 called Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS). Overshadowed by the success of the ideas and plays that Manuel created while part of this group, FLS has mesmerized audiences around the globe for the better part of two decades with musical versions of Whose Line is it Anyways-type comedy featuring catchy beats and riffs.  After wrapping their second run on Broadway this past January, FLS is embarking on an 11-city national tour that will be making a stop at Charlotte’s Knight Theater in May. 

Freestyle Love Supreme was born as a collaboration between musically minded colleagues Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Anthony Veneziale (Bartlett), and Thomas Kail (Hamilton) as a way to brainstorm ideas and learn from each other. The group found early success in their fast-paced comedy shows that culminated in their 2019 Broadway debut at Booth Theater in New York. With the show being unscripted and not fitting into an existing award category, FLS was awarded a special Tony in 2020. The success of the group has not been limited to the stage, they earned a Grammy nomination in 2020 for Best Music Film for their Hulu documentary directed by Andrew Fried, We Are Freestyle Love Supreme. 

Filled with witty and hilarious freestyles to the background of beatboxing and a keyboard, each FLS performance is truly unique. This is in part due to the improv style of the show, but also because they incorporate audience feedback and suggestions into their act.

“It’s always so much fun because we never know what’s gonna happen until it’s happening and it’s always a wild ride,” said cast member Morgan Reilly, a.k.a. “Hummingbird.”

Throughout the show, FLS incorporates games using the audience’s suggestions to create catchy, humorous and rhythmic songs.

L to R: Jay Ellis (“Jellis”), Morgan Reilly (“Hummingbird”), Richard Baskin Jr. (“Rich Midway”), Andrew Bancroft (“Jelly Donut”), and Kaila Mullady (“Kaiser Rözé”). Photo Joan Marcus

“My favorite game is second chance. We’ll ask the audience about something that happened in their life that went horribly wrong, and we act out that scenario for it ending in the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario,” said Reilly.

Music, improv comedy, and live theater intersect with FLS creating the need for a well-rounded cast. The tour members come from all areas of the entertainment industry, including actors, recording artists, and even beatboxers. While the current tour does not feature the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda on its permanent roster, FLS has assembled an impressive cast of performers led by founding member and improv master Anthony Veneziale (“Two-Touch”). The FLS touring company also features Andrew Bancroft (“Jelly Donut”), Jay C. Ellis (“Jellis”), Aneesa Folds (“Young Nees”), Kaila Mullady (“Kaiser Rözé”), and Chris Sullivan (“Shockwave”). Audiences will have the chance to see the talents of some of the newer FLS members keyboardist and singer Richard Baskin Jr (“Rich Midway”), rapper Jay C. Ellis (“Jelis J”), keyboardists and singer James Rushin (“Not Draggin”), and recording artist Morgan Reilly (“Hummingbird”). 

L to R: Chris Sullivan (“Shockwave”), Jay Ellis (“Jelis J”), Anthony Veneziale (“Two-Touch”), and Morgan Reilly (“Hummingbird”). Photo Joan Marcus

True to its out-of-the-box form, FLS is known to feature high-profile guest performers who remain unannounced ahead of each performance to keep things fresh. Past shows have featured the likes of Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect), James Monroe Iglehart (Tony Award winner for his role as Genie in Broadway’s Aladdin), Christopher Jackson (Broadway’s Lion King), Daveed Daniele Diggs (Hamilton), keyboardist Bill Sherman (Hamilton and Sesame Street) and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

L to R: Morgan Reilly (“Hummingbird”), Anthony Veneziale (“Two-Touch”), and Jay Ellis (“Jelis J”). Photo Joan Marcus

By incorporating guest performers, audience feedback, and freestyle improv, no two performances are alike. Each show leaves the audience with not just laughs, but ways to look at our everyday situations and scenarios in a different light. 

“The show is a beautifully cathartic, hilarious therapy session,” said Riley.

Whether you’re seeking laughter, freestyle hip-hop, or are in need of a group therapy session, FLS will certainly keep you entertained. 

Freestyle Love Supreme will be in Charlotte on May 24-29 at Knight Theater

Showtimes:

Tuesday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 27 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 28 at 2:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 29 at 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 29 at 7:00 p.m.

This article is brought to you ad-free by Blumenthal Performing Arts 

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