‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ brings the magic to Kennedy Center

The talent on stage cannot be overstated: rapping, singing, comedy, storytelling, rhyming, and all on the fly.

It’s only fair to tell you up front that if it’s got Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name attached I am not predisposed to dislike it. I arrive ready to have fun (whether it’s on Disney+, on Netflix, or at 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 run on Broadway produced by its very own founding members, I got the feels. Young creatives make good and bring their passion project to the Great White Way? We love to see it. And now, it’s made its way to the Kennedy Center.

That is all I have to say about the Lin-Manuel Miranda of it all.

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

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

The show is a breezy and well-paced 100-ish minutes of hip hop and improv. No intermission to drag things out. Right out of the gate when Chris Jackson proclaims Wednesday to be “the new Friday,” it’s clear the audience is in capable hands and we’re going to have a good time.

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

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

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

Seeing Christopher Jackson plucked out of his Washington uniform and freestyling is a particular delight. It’s just fun to see someone whose talents you already admire in musical theater and television pull out other skills you’ve never seen him flex before. Then there was young Morgan Reilly, the freakishly talented singer and rapper who confidently led two segments of the show where the cast retold a story from an audience member. She also skillfully welcomed the season ticket holders by paying homage to a few musical theater classics mid-skit. Ah yes, she is our people.

Andrew Bancroft, aka “Jelly Donut,” was the tone-setter of the evening. He laid the ground rules, breaking the fourth wall with the audience, getting us up to speed on what we need to know about the world of Freestyle Love Supreme. His special skill was weaving in inside jokes between the audience and the cast and bringing them back around several times throughout the night. Honestly, why didn’t we do a group hug at the end?

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

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

The Kennedy Center is in the midst of rolling out its first full season since 2019. The season has a little bit of time capsule energy. It’s all the shows we theater loyal were chomping at the bit to see, say three years ago. And the magic of being in the room during a live performance has yet to feel normal. It still feels like a freaking rare jewel. So when you compound that special live performance energy and then you multiply it by the unique and no-two-nights-are-the-same schtick that comes standard with improv and freestyling, the magic is palpable.

Freestyle Love Supreme is at the Kennedy Center through May 15 and it brings the improv magic, the live band magic, the audience-interaction magic, the comedy magic, and the Chris Jackson magic. Honestly, if I didn’t have two kids at home I’d probably be trying to figure out how to get back to the Eisenhower again this weekend. It’s just that fun. Don’t miss it.

Running Time: One hour 50 minutes, with no intermission.

Freestyle Love Supreme plays through Sunday, May 15, 2022, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Eisenhower Theater. For tickets ($45–$135), purchase in-person at the Kennedy Center box office, call (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or go online.

The Freestyle Love Supreme program is available online here.

COVID Safety: Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 is required to attend all indoor performances and 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 complete COVID Safety Plan is here.

FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME’s company on tour 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 Steingart, 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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