Review: ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ romp ingeniously blends improv, rap and hip-hop with viewers’ daily lives
National touring production of the Tony-winning show running through July 10 at the Old Globe
It’s hard to describe the flashfire creativity, chemistry and comedy that make up the wildly entertaining show “Freestyle Love Supreme,” which opened a three-week tour stop Wednesday at the Old Globe.
It’s improv skits mixed with beatbox storytelling, songs created out of thin air and raps spun on a dime — all based on words and stories from the audience each night. Co-created in 2003 by Anthony Veneziale, Thomas Kail and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Freestyle Love Supreme” feels like a plate-spinning magic act where the talented cast rarely suffers a crashing fail.
Although it sounds free-wheeling, the 80-minute “FLS” show runs as smooth as a “Tessy,” as Elon Musk’s electric car was nicknamed in one of the funniest raps on Wednesday night. It’s hard to appreciate how bright and in-the-moment these creative performers are until you hear virtually every word and story the audience members suggest spat back in funny songs, raps and comic bits.
Ticket-holders drop words in a bucket for a spontaneous rap reel. Other words about things people hate, from boiled beets to “turning 30,” are played for laughs. And a bit on things people love became the basis for cast members’ true confessional raps that ranged from amusing to melancholy.
One of the best segments of the show was based on an audience member named Jordi’s scary childhood story of being chased by a cougar in the San Diego mountains. The cast re-created Jordi’s memory into a stage skit with rap and song, then flashed it forward and finally rewound it “Hamilton"-style and remade with a happier ending. Another fun bit, based on the suggested verb “resuscitating,” turned into a fast-moving multi-performer hand-off with songs, rap and rhymes that included references to “Grey’s Anatomy,” E.R. visits, lifeguard tales and the Biblical character of Lazarus. And the raucous finale re-created in musical form the day of a man from Riverside County who was on his first date with a San Diego girl in the audience on Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s host was Andrew “Jelly Donut” Bancroft, an affable leader with a steel-trap memory for audience suggestions. Jay C. “Jellis J” Ellis was lightning-quick with his very funny and occasionally R-rated raps, including his comparison of the word “Microsoft” to a part of the male anatomy. Singer Morgan “Hummingbird” Reilly could turn any words — from “seasoned croutons” to “turning 30" — into multi-octave melismatic riffs. Emcee-rapper “Dizzy” Senze churned out rhyming verse in seconds from word suggestions ranging from “cowbell” to “cantankerous.” Beatboxers Mark “Mandible” Martin and Kaila “Kaiser Rözé" Mullady created a stunning aural soundscape with only their mouths, and two musicians — pianist Victoria “Gigawatts” Theodore and James “Shifty Hills” Rushin — improvised the beat-heavy score on the spot.
The cast changes slightly from night to night, to give individual performers a chance to rest, but the show itself changes completely. Except for a few pre-written bits, like the intro and beatbox duet, it felt like everything else was created fresh. Not all of the bits work and some dragged on too long, but it’s still fun watching the performers occasionally struggle to find a rhyme, because it seems like they’re having as much fun onstage as the audience is watching them.
‘Freestyle Love Supreme’
When: 7 pm. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through July 10
Where: The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Tickets: $52 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
Get U-T Arts & Culture on Thursdays
A San Diego insider’s look at what talented artists are bringing to the stage, screen, galleries and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the San Diego Union-Tribune.