Review: ‘Freestyle Love Supreme is a hip-hop improv potluck

“Freestyle Love Supreme,” the hip-hop improv show that won a special Tony Award for its Broadway performance, is different every night. Various guest stars. Different audience entrance. Various rap riffs.

The only constant is spontaneity. The show, which opened Thursday at the Pasadena Playhouse, is created on-site by a cast of performers who respond to prompts with clever rhymes and distinctive moves in the moment.

The potluck nature of “Freestyle Love Supreme” is part of the work’s collective charm. No one knows what the menu will be like, but the feeling of togetherness alleviates some of the disappointment of ending up feeling full and starving at the same time.

Anthony Veneziale, who hosted Thursday’s opening under the direction of Two Touch, created the show, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, long before “Hamilton” expanded hip-hop’s horizons on Broadway. (The collective’s long journey is chronicled in the Hulu documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme.)

Directed by Kail, the show has established routines that invite unexpected play. A nod to John Coltrane’s classic free jazz album A Love Supreme, the performers of Freestyle Love Supreme go where chance, inspiration and their own talents take them.

Veneziale asks questions of the audience to get things going. When a theatergoer called out “fornicate” in response to a request for verbs, the cast springed into action, grateful to be given an action word with a bit of grit after a pile of clothes.

Another request was to name a current beef. A roar went up as someone shouted “the Supreme Court.” Before you knew it, beer-loving Brett Kavanaugh was the target of what could be called stand-up hip-hop.

Fresh from his triumph in Kinky Boots at the Hollywood Bowl, Wayne Brady, who was part of the rotation of Freestyle Love Supreme in New York, was Thursday’s special guest star. His flexible comedy skills – honed through years of TV improvisation – ensured a smooth premiere night.

But the star was undoubtedly Aneesa Folds (aka Young Nees), who brought lush R&B power to her hip-hop stylings. Both verbally and vocally, she seemed bolder than her peers, one of whom dropped a few bars over an arthritic knee in a riff inspired by the word “edibles.”

“Freestyle Love Supreme” is more serious than edgy. Rap’s sense of urgency, born of exposing raw social truths and fearlessly defying the status quo, is neutered. The audience is carried away by Veneziale with polite sophistry.

There was as much deadwood as there was virtuosity at the performance on Thursday. Perhaps opening night nervousness or concerns about Pasadena decency stalled the cast. The uninterrupted production started late and dragged on excessively. It felt like a long night.

Kaila Mullady (aka Kaiser Rözé) demonstrated her masterful beatbox repertoire by creating radio play-worthy sound effects with her mouth alone. Richard Baskin Jr. (aka Rich Midway) and Victoria Theodore (aka Gigawatts) provided deft musical accompaniment, double-backing a beat when the sound was right and transitioning smoothly from one performer to another.

One of Thursday’s touching moments involved a viewer booking his first acting television series. He was asked to go through the day’s events and give us the before and after of his ecstatic news.

The interaction between Veneziale and this young man was a lot more exciting than the laboriously conjured up rap opera reenactment. A little improvisation goes a long way, but the Freestyle Love Supreme crew is friendly company.

‘Freestyle Love Supreme’

‘Freestyle Love Supreme’

Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

When: 8pm Wednesday-Friday, 2pm and 8pm Saturday, 2pm Sunday. Ends August 7th.

Tickets: Starts at $30

Contact: (626) 356-7529 or

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes Review: ‘Freestyle Love Supreme is a hip-hop improv potluck

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