Freestyle Love Supreme, the new hip-hop improv show that opened on Broadway October 2, actually gets its name from the master jazz improviser: “It was creator Anthony [Veneziale]'s love letter to [“A Love Supreme”] because he wanted us to have the freedom of John Coltrane improvising, that was the benchmark we were trying to reach,” says FLS co-founder and producer of the Broadway show Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Miranda greeted Playbill live on the red carpet in celebration of the show’s opening at the Booth Theatre. Miranda, Veneziale, and director Thomas Kail co-founded the musical improv troupe during their undergrad at Wesleyan. As they recruited members, they began performing downtown in New York and enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run at Ars Nova.
Now, the rotating cast—with an even larger roster of special sporadic guest stars—hits the Main Stem.
We asked Miranda and company about their improv tips and tricks, how they choose the words from the shouting audience (if you’re looking to get picked, take note), and who their favorite improv sparring partners are in the FLS crew.
For Miranda, how his brain turns a word into a song depends on the improv game. “If it's at the top [of the show] where we're picking words out of the bucket [my brain] doesn't go anywhere. Just whatever the associations that come with that word. You see an ink blot test happening in front of you in real time.”
Wayne Brady (Kinky Boots, Hamilton Chicago), who is also a special guest, explained his strategy: “If you say ‘mushrooms’—I equate it to having a computer screen. All the things I know about mushrooms and mushroom caps and fungi and pigs rooting for truffles [come up and] you go, ‘I choose this and I choose this’ and let the story unfold. You have to tell a story otherwise it’s just rhyming words.”
Beatboxer Chris Sullivan, aka Shockwave, taught viewers at home how to create a basic snare drum sound, while Veneziale revealed how he, as the MC, chooses the words from the audience to inspire their sketches. “When the audience has a gasp or a reaction to a word and less oxygen is in the room, that’s the word I go for,” he said. “The audience will generally tell you.”
Which is why Miranda says that Freestyle Love Supreme is a group that was always meant to perform for a crowd—not just each other. “It was always the most magic when it was live,” he said. “What’s amazing is this is the only thing I do that I feel more energy when I've done it than when I started. It feeds In The Heights, it feeds Hamilton because it’s the only show that sharpens my tools for the other thing. So that fact that we get to just do this, you bring the ingredients and we make this meal, is incredible.”
Miranda also revealed what to expect from his version of Piragua Man when the In The Heights movie comes out and what upcoming project he’s most excited about. Watch the video above for the full interview with Miranda, Brady, Sullivan, Veneziale, plus interviews with Tony winner Daveed Diggs, Andrew Bancroft, Tony nominee Christopher Jackson, and Utkarsh Ambudkar. The full cast also includes Arthur Lewis, Ian Weinberger, Bill Sherman, Aneesa Folds, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Kaila Mullady, and Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart.