Arts & Entertainment, Features, Reviews

REVIEW: Freestyle Love Supreme takes improv to a new level

An entire wall of retro speakers and a large neon sign piercing the darkness reading “FLS” — Freestyle Love Supreme — set the stage as people started filing into the theater. Freestyle Love Supreme, a Special Tony Award-winning improv hip-hop comedy show co-created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, took the stage at the Emerson Colonial Theater Saturday.

Freestyle Love Supreme
Chris Sullivan (left), Wayne Brady, Anthony Veneziale, Aneesa Folds and Kurt Crowley (on keyboard) in Freestyle Love Supreme at the Emerson Colonial Theater. Adithya Iyer reviewed the improv hip-hop comedy show, praising the performers’ talent and musical acumen. COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS

As everyone took their seats, the lights dimmed and three performers came on stage to a groovy funk beat playing in the background. Andrew Bancroft, aka “Jelly Donut,” started rapping over the beat as Jay C. Ellis, aka “Jellis J,” and Aneesa Folds, aka “Young Nees,” joined in.

Their introductory freestyle incorporated lyrics about where they were, what they were going to do and how excited they were to get the show going. Once the introductions were complete, Bancroft approached the front of the stage and asked the crowd for a verb. This was when the show diverged and became something truly unique.

People raised their hands — verbs such as “gallop,” “floating,” “puke,” “dancing” and “launder” were thrown back to make it harder for the performers to incorporate into freestyle. Bancroft took in all the suggestions and settled on the word that all three performers were going to find a use for in their freestyle rap.

The word was “grind.”

The beat from before immediately started to play again as Bancroft, Ellis and Folds all took turns incorporating the word into lyrics that were relevant and specific to the experiences of the crowd. Bancroft incorporated Boston specific references, Folds made a comment about the drizzly weather and Ellis incorporated some of the other verbs suggested earlier.

From the first song, it was clear to the audience that everything we were about to witness was truly improvisational and that we were among the privileged few to see this completely unique show.

Once this was over, the three main performers took a break and Chris Sullivan, aka “Shockwave,” came to the front of the stage. Up until this point, Sullivan had not taken a verse.

The lights dimmed and a single spotlight shone on Sullivan as he proceeded to beatbox with incredible precision and skill. He switched between different percussive styles, impressing the audience with his ability to emulate an entire band all by himself.

The most impressive part of Sullivan’s performance came when he pulled out a harmonica from his back pocket and beatboxed into it. The result was an incredible combination of rhythm and music reflective of Sullivan’s impeccable talent.

The rest of the performance entailed more incredible improvised songs inspired by suggestions from the crowd. One of the most standout moments was a song based on what the audience believed were the most important things in their lives.

Some audience members shouted out funny suggestions like “coffee,” “good pasta” and “no masks,” but one audience member shouted out “true love.” The performers settled on that and started an incredibly emotional ballad about their own personal experiences with true love.

Anthony Veneziale, the show’s guest star and one of the founding members of FLS, improvised an entire verse about his wife, including how he met her, how she proposed to him and how they’ve been married for 15 years. Bancroft rapped about his parents’ marriage, how they met and their entire family’s story.

Ellis’ freestyle about his understanding of true love was the most emotional part of the entire show. He freestyled about his parents’ hardships and about his experience living with his mother during quarantine and the impact his parents’ love for each other had on him. Seeing Ellis’ emotion pour into his carefully chosen words highlighted both his narrative prowess and his musical acumen.

The performers of FLS possess an almost inhuman level of talent. It would not be an exaggeration to call their work on that stage “genius.” The mental acuity required to adapt arbitrary words into a cohesive narrative that was hilarious and emotional while also following the rhythmic, rhyming structure of rap was an incredible sight to witness.

FLS will be performing at the Emerson Colonial Theater until April 2. The Colonial Theater has a “student rush” policy where, if students arrive at the theater two hours before curtain-call, tickets are priced at $20 each.

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