The improvisational collective and Special Tony Award-winning Broadway show Freestyle Love Supreme pumps out some illustrious alumni: the group was formed by college friends Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In The Heights) and Anthony Veneziale, is directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton, Fosse/Verdon), and has featured a bevy of star-studded performers including Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Hamilton), Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Black-ish), and award-winning beatboxer Kaila Mullady. All to say, any cast of this production is jam-packed with Broadway VIPs and stars on the rise.
Now, a new class of improvisers and hip-hop singers are making their mark at the Booth Theatre along side some faculty favorites. Playing games with and extracting stories from audience members nightly, the pros use that raw materials to musically mold into fully-formed songs and sketches. In theater, we say that no two performances are alike—different audiences bring in different energies. But for Freestyle Love Supreme, this mantra couldn’t be truer as each audience determines the jokes, songs, and trajectory for the show’s jam-packed, exhilarating 90 minutes.
As this year's ever-changing roster of performers enjoys their limited engagement—performances run through January 2, 2022—we caught up with a few of the the rapping, beatboxing, and singing sensations who bring this energetic Broadway hit to life.
Andrew Bancroft AKA Jelly Donut:
How I first started improv: The more I learn, the more I see that we are ALWAYS improvising—that's how humans get through life. The joy of adding a hip-hop beat and actually improvising in front of crowds started back in Wesleyan dorm rooms, then rap battles in Oakland, CA, then Freestyle Love Supreme!
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: My mom gave my brother and I food names when we were babies. He had red hair and became "Pumpkin Pie." I was chubby and became "Jelly Donut." Just seemed to stick.
Go-to rhyming word: Whatever word you give me. I just work here.
Motto: Listen to each other with open eyes, open ears, and an open heart.
Best advice you've received about freestyling: LISTEN. Rhyming, being funny, singing well... none of that stuff matters as much as listening to the audience and each other.
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: I drink a cold sparkling water after every show, hopefully washing down whatever cookies or candy people brought to the theater.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: Audiences are clearly pumped to be back in a physical space together, and we love taking their energy and words and making music with it. We've all been craving this connection and excuse to laugh together, and all I want to do is help audiences have the night of their lives.
Kurt Crowley AKA The Lord and Lady Crowley:
How I first started improv: I always loved improv theater games back when I was an actor in theater school in my hometown. But the crossover with music started to happen when I was playing jazz standards in a wine bar with a friend in Portland—we’d see how many jazz standards we could cram into each other, like a turducken mash-up on-the-spot, really showed me how much fun it was.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Two Touch came up to me in the lobby of the Greenwich Theater just before my first FLS show, Off-Broadway. He asked me three general questions about my childhood, and then deduced that my name should be “Lord and Lady Crowley”—it also didn’t hurt that the Downton Abbey movie was about to come out in theaters.
Go-to rhyming word: During warm-up before the show, I’m just trying not to fall on my face, I wish I had such a thing as a “go-to rhyming word.”
Motto: If any musical theater song gets mentioned in the show, trust that Aneesa is going to know it, and sing it.
Best advice you've received about freestyling: In the words of Aaron Burr, “You spit, I’ma sit, we’ll see where we land.”
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: Any day where there’s a Schmackary cookie in the green room, half of it seems to provide the ideal amount of sugar rush to start the show.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: Everything—but it would have to be the addition of some fabulous new keys players to collaborate with on a nightly basis. They are all spectacular but each have their own strengths and individual sounds.
Tarik Davis AKA Tardis Hardaway:
How I first started improv: Me and a friend of mine performed in this theater troupe in college that would perform almost like these after-school special skits in dorms about safe sex and drugs, etc. My friend was very popular on campus and I found out it was because he was in another troupe that did improv and sold out shows every weekend. Soon after, he asked me to audition—I got in and I haven't looked back since.
Go-to rhyming word: “Through.” I don't know why but I say that word unnecessarily all the time.
Motto: Keep on breathing.
Best advice you've received about freestyling: Don't worry about rhyming, find the flow and the rest will take care of itself.
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: After a show I always crave a bowl of cereal.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: Getting back in front of people after the year we've all just experienced is truly a privilege, and I never get tired of it.
Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees
How I first started improv: I dabbled a bit in high school, and then again in college where I studied musical theatre. My first personal experience with freestyle improv in this structure was when I was introduced to the FLS Academy. I had been a fan of the group for years, so being able to use my skills in a setting like that was life-changing.
How I practice freestyling:My favorite way is cyphing with friends. Just getting a beat going and playing off of each other. I often test myself with random words. And classes are super fun, too. Check out the FLS Academy and you too can freestyle!
Most memorable freestyle: My first time getting to cyph with Chris Jackson, James Iglehart and Shockwave on the beat was pretty freaking magical.
Line I'll never forget: "I'm the BOSS Michael Scott, Y'all B*tches is just Phyllis." —Childish Gambino
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: It's always fun to ask something like favorite book you've never read, or show or movie you've never seen. People always come up with the strangest, most creative things.
Go-to rhyming word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a solid one.
Motto:"If you real and you know it clap your hands."
My advice to freestylers: Keep going! Rap with your friends, rap with a stranger, random street cyphs are super fun! And remember just because it doesn't rhyme doesn't mean it doesn't work. Just keep it moving and eventually you'll figure it out and probably surprise yourself!
Kaila Mullady AKA Kaiser Rözé
How I first started improv: I took a drama class in high school and fell in love with improv. Then from 2013–2017 I got to combine my passions when I become the main beatboxer for the hip-hop improv group Northcoast.
How I practice freestyling:Literally all day, every day. On the subway, in the park, in the shower. The beauty of the human instrument is that it is always with you!
Most memorable freestyle:When I first moved to New York City, my first job to pay the bills was for a tour bus company that put performers around the city with microphones. I used to have to stand outside of a Shake Shack and freestyle about people on the street. Only the people on the bus knew what I was doing and everyone else thought I was crazy!
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been afraid of?
Go-to rhyming word: Constellations
Motto: “Once you get comfortable doing the uncomfortable, nothing can stop you!”
My advice to freestylers: All day. Every day. Twice a day.
Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave
How I first started improv: In high school I was part of an improv group called "Kung Fu Improv," part of The UnCommon Theatre from the Boston Area. God Bless community theatre. In college, I joined MISSION:IMPROVable which still exists back at UMass Amherst, and now have their tour company and Westside Comedy Theatre in Chicago.
How I practice freestyling:If I'm practicing freestyling (which I do not do in the show, thank God), I like to establish a rhythm first then fill in the notes with words or sometimes scatting or gibberish. When we warm up backstage before shows, everyone in the cypher freestyles at some point and when it's my turn, I'm happy that my job is keeping time not the rhyme—oops I'm better than I thought!
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: When I was in MISSION:IMPROVable, everyone had stage names and we used a microphone to introduce the cast and also do fun short-form improv games where the sound effects were improvised. One day, during rehearsal, I jumped on the mic and began messing around. I was bestowed "Shockwave" after the Decepticon from Transformers—they really meant "Soundwave," but now it's history.
Most memorable freestyle: When we were in Edinburgh on an evening stand-up variety show at a night club, for some reason there were a bunch of drunk people in the mezzanine dressed as tennis players. I actually don't remember what the freestyle was about but next thing you knew, tennis balls came a flyin' at the stage and, needless to say, Anthony got laquered in the tokies.
Line I'll never forget: "Son you're gonna be the one we're proud of, so, say your name even louder, sun rise!"
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Repeat after me... "Boots Cuts Boots Cuts..."
Go-to rhyming word: Orange/ door hinge
Motto: “Invest, don't invent.”
My advice to freestylers: Tell the truth over a beat and let the rhymes come later.
Anthony Veneizale AKA Two-Touch
How I first started improv: After being cut from the soccer team, I was devastated but auditioned the next day for Gag Reflex, the comedy improv troupe at Wesleyan University. They accepted me, and it forever changed my life.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: My dear friend John Newman and I were in a troupe called The Pedestrians and in a scene he called me Two Milk and than after he started calling me Two Touch (because the format we used to perform was creating an alternate take to a song provided by the audience, giving it a second touch). Also, it's a soccer move, and I get to watch my daughters play every weekend.
Go-to rhyming word: "Oh My God..."
Motto: Make mistakes and keep going.
Best advice you've received about freestyling: Be informed by that which comes before you, and be willing to be changed by that which comes after you.
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: Ramen soup.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: We get to be the medicine that people need so desperately now. Welcoming people back to Broadway with humor and warmth and love.
Utkarsh Ambudkar AKA UTK the INC.
How I first started improv: I started in improv by accident, I think. I did plays in high school, and when I would get a laugh the adrenaline from it would hit me so hard I think of kind of blacked out and would just go off script chasing more laughter. It probably wasn’t the best experience for my directors...I’m sorry!
How I practice freestyling:I live in L.A. and spend alot of time in my car. I’ll put on instrumentals and rap for as long as I can, reading signs as I go. Anything to keep the basic muscles fit.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Utkarsh the Incredible...UTK the INC. I’m not really sure, but Utkarsh shortens to UTK so maybe that’s why? Someone must have named me early on in the battle days. I want to credit my friend Archie Ekong, so I will. Archie did it!
Line I'll never forget:The very first show I did 10 years ago, James did a TRUE about his dad finding his brother’s dirty magazines that still sticks with me.
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: I love “Second Chance.” If we are open and vulnerable we create a safe space for our audience to do the same.
Go-to rhyming word: The guys will all answer this for me: melanin.
Motto: “You’re only funky as your last cut, focus on the past your ass’l be a has what.” —Andre3000
My advice to freestylers: Spit the truth. Content over Ego. Embrace failure. Mistakes are where the gold is. Plan nothing.
Wayne Brady AKA Mr. Brady Baby AKA Chocolate Bars
How I first started improv: Improv and I became friends in 1990 when I joined Sak Theatre in Orlando, Florida. After interning and taking class for a year, I helped start the Sak Comedy Lab and Orlando Theatresports Team.
How I practice freestyling:I practice with songs on the radio or in the shower. Basically, making stuff up like I did when I was 10.
My advice to freestylers: Best advice to a budding freestyler is to read. Everything! Words are power!
Daveed Diggs AKA Mr. Diggs
How I first started improv: FLS was really the first improv I ever did. I met Anthony Veneziale while substitute teaching the same class and he invited me to come to a cypher. That was it.
How I practice freestyling:I don't. I prefer to just be constantly terrified of it.
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: I just like to rap. Not really concerned with the prompts. But I love our game TRUE because it slows things down and there is an element of sincerity to it. I feel like we learn the most about each other during that game.
My advice to freestylers: Do it out loud and in groups. You're way better in your head than you are when you try to actually do it.
Ashley Perez Flanagan AKA Reina Fire
How I first started improv: First started improv while putting on unscripted shows in my basement!
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: I tried on a few different rap names and Reina Fire is the one I ultimately chose for FLS. Anthony "Two Touch" asked me a bunch of questions about things I love, memories of my childhood etc. and we started to put the name together. The name embraces my cultural background and includes the element of fire, which I love!
Best advice you've received about freestyling: Best advice I've received about freestyling is to let the excitement outweigh your nerves. Above all else, have fun! There is no "right" way to do it. Being authentic is what makes it interesting, entertaining and relatable.
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: I usually only eat a granola bar before the show and eat after. I always crave a freezing cold seltzer, crackers and hummus.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: The fact that the show is running again and that people are able to safely see it! The world has gone through a lot since the last time we were on Broadway and I think there is a deeper sense of gratitude for live theater and all of the people who make it happen and support it. Broadway is back!
James Monroe Iglehart AKA J-Soul
How I first started improv: Unofficially at home with my dad. He would let me and my brother come up with wild scenarios and act them out. Officially: college. I had my first real improv class and I fell in love.
How I practice freestyling:I usually put a beat on my phone and freestyle to myself about my surroundings. Or, I will tell my friend to give me a word or subject and then I will begin to flow on that.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: Usually Anthony “Two-Touch” Veneziale names folks in our crew. I already had a name in mind and Anthony liked it and said go for it, and J-Soul was born.
Most memorable freestyle: The time I got to play a fish in one of our scenes. I was caught on a line and was jumping up and down as a fish outta water would do. I will never forget C-Jack’s laugh.
Line I'll never forget: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Caucasian and melanin.” —UTK the INC
Motto: “Work hard and dream big.”
My advice to freestylers: Let it all go and let it all come to you. Don’t think so hard, relax into the flow. It will come to you.
Christopher Jackson AKA C-Jack
How I first started improv: I was first exposed to improv in college. It felt like an alien form of performance to me! I thought, “What is this!?! This is the scariest thing anyone’s asked me to do!”
How I practice freestyling:I’m constantly listening to music and have always been deep into hip hop and writing, from very early in my life’s musical exploration. I have hundreds of instrumental tracks that I practice to. Whether I’m in my car or playing golf, when we are gearing up for a performance, I try to create challenges for myself rhyming as many different things as I can. Sometimes, I’ll sit and write down random rhymes. It helps me much in the same way that an instrumentalist listens to other players... How they move and interpret their emotions and the moment they’re in.
Line I'll never forget: “White Chocolate” came from a TRUE song we were doing back in 2005 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I told a story about a conversation I had with my grandmother about race when I was 4 or 5.
Go-to rhyming word:I ain’t tellin'! (Trade secrets).
Motto: “Without Struggle, there can be no Progress” —Fredrick Douglass
My advice to freestylers: Be authentic. It’s cool to emulate someone’s style, but I think that hip hop is an expression of who you are and what you’re about. And most importantly, have fun! When you come to an FLS show, the one thing you will see instantly is that we perform with complete and utterjoy! That’s what it’s all about!
Lin-Manuel Miranda AKA Lin-Man
How I first started improv: We have some incredible members who come from improv backgrounds, but my way in was through music and freestyle, which remains my favorite mode of communication.
How I practice freestyling: Get around a bunch of friends, grab some music, get a beat and talk about life. Years ago, things started with me and Anthony around a piano telling each other about how our days went.
Most memorable freestyle: Doing a show at Ars Nova years ago, the suggestion from the audience was “He-Man” and I happened to have He-Man underwear on that night… which led to one of the most revealing freestyles I’ve ever done!
Favorite prompt to try on an audience: Not sure about prompt, but I know the favorite game we play is TRUE. There’s nowhere to hide in it. It’s like we’re having a musical truth serum administered in front of an audience. I learn so much about everybody in the group that way. We share things in that game that we’d never talk about in regular conversation.
Motto: “Stay open. Stay listening.” I used to try to plan my rhymes out beforehand, but then I’d spit them and have nowhere to go. There’s greater reward in finding it as it comes.
My advice to freestylers: Resist the urge to plan punchlines. The best stuff you find is on stage as it’s going, usually by mistake!
Bill Sherman AKA King Sherman:
How I first started improv: Freestyle Love Supreme, at a crash course in musicianship and improvisation in the basement of the Drama Bookshop.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: As usual, an invention of Two Touch.
Go-to rhyming word: “Ummmm…..”
Motto: Just make it up.
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: Sushi!
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: New members, new audiences, new fun.
Ian Weinberger AKA Berger Time:
How I first started improv: I played a lot of jazz in high school, as a drummer and pianist—that’s definitely the foundation for what I do as an FLS keyboard player. Before that, I was a theater kid, and I spent some time playing improv games. Trouble was, I always wanted to laugh at the jokes. Turns out the music thing suits me way better.
Where my Freestyle Love Supreme name comes from: BurgerTime is an arcade game from the 1980s. The main character is a chef named Peter Pepper, who has to run around the kitchen assembling hamburgers, while being chased by evil enemy foods: Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Egg. (Really.) Anthony gave me the name on the day we met—about 15 minutes before my first FLS show—I had never heard of the game, but I liked the name right away. I have a small handheld version of BurgerTime and I am…terrible at it. Still haven’t made it past Level 1.
Go-to rhyming word: A lot of things rhyme with “blue.” Not many things rhyme with “Weinberger.”
Motto: Punctuation saves lives. (“Let’s eat, Grandma!”)
Best advice you’ve received about freestyling: Just play your first idea—don’t wait for a “better” idea—and play it confidently. Make strong choices and don’t worry about whether they’re “good”—there’s no time to think about it!
What you absolutely crave before or after a performance: Chocolate, always. And, of course, burgers.
What excites you most about this new run of Freestyle Love Supreme: I missed this crew so much over the last year and a half. For so much of that time, no one knew how long it would be until we’d get to experience a live performance again. FLS is as live as it gets—it only works if we’re in the room, with you in the audience, together—and I feel like this is the perfect way to return to live theater. If we do it right, the show is a real celebration of what it means to be human—but also, after these last 20 months, don’t we all deserve some laughs?
Get a taste of Freestyle Love Supreme as the cast perform in Times Square below: