How do you review a show that changes every night? Not just every word uttered, every note played — but also who is performing. That’s the conundrum facing critics of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” an evening of improv song-making that opened at Broadway’s Booth Theatre Wednesday after decades of on-and-off performances throughout the city over the last two decades.
Back in 2003, future Tony-winning director Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) helped form the group with other soon-to-be stars, including Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton”) and yes, fellow Wesleyan alum Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has proven himself on talk shows and awards ceremonies as a master at freestyling original rap lyrics at the drop of one of his signature newsboy caps.
While Miranda plans to pop up at some performances of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” his guest appearances will not be announced in advance — and he was MIA at the show I attended, though it did feature both Jackson and Tony-winning “Aladdin” star James Monroe Iglehart. (Performer Utkarsh Ambudkar even cracked a “Hamilton” joke at Jackson’s expense: “Call me son one more time…”)
In fact, the cast will be a rotating crew, led by co-creator Anthony Veneziale, a quick-witted, trilby-sporting lyricist, singer and genial master of ceremonies who suggests the ultimate Brooklyn Hipster Dad. (He even shared a story about tearing his ACL with an ill-advised bicycle kick on a soccer pitch.) He’s quick to guffaw at his fellow castmates’ turns of phrase — and to lead the audience for suggested words and phrases for the various musical improv games.
The on-stage team also includes a beat-boxer (Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan at my performance) as well as two keyboardists (Arthur Lewis and Bill Sherman) who provide spot-on, quick-fingered accompaniment.
It’s a heroically talented team but the performance I saw was, perhaps understandably, a mixed bag. There were some genuinely clever rhymes (function and liposuction, dog and gulag) and turns of phrase (“Forget about your ego / I’m not your amigo”) scattered throughout, but also plenty of verbal stumbles and stalling-for-time riffs.
Still, Veneziale moved the proceedings along and sped the performers past the less successful bits. And there was a virtue in having both audience and performers enjoying the in-the-momentness of it all — which was supplemented by the use of Yondr pouches to lock away audience cellphones for the duration of the show. (Rest assured: A battalion of ushers very quickly set them free after the curtain call.)
Your enjoyment of “Freestyle Love Supreme” — particularly at Broadway ticket prices — may depend on your tolerance for improv comedy. And beat-boxing. And whether you’ve ever won the “Hamilton” ticket lottery. Because more so than most shows, pure blind luck factors into a successful performance — from whether you’ll get to see Miranda freestyle on stage to the unknowable alchemy of audience suggestions and performers sparking musical genius on any particular night.