Broadway's "Freestyle Love Supreme" Hops into Town
By SF/Arts Editors
Bay Area audiences will be the first to see this slam-dunk hit from celebrated theater makers Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Bay Area artist Anthony Veneziale.
Before "Hamilton," before "In the Heights," there was "Freestyle Love Supreme," the critically acclaimed Broadway hit from the minds of longtime friends Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Anthony Veneziale.
Launching its American tour at the A.C.T. Geary Theater, "Freestyle Love Supreme" (through February 13) pays homage to John Coltrane’s improvisational musical style as it takes audiences on a never-before-seen-and-never-to-be-seen-again hip-hop comedy ride. Hailed as "a hugely entertaining dream of a show” by Time Out, no two shows will be alike as performers and guest artists spin audience suggestions into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers.
We chatted with three cast members — Aneesa Folds, Andrew Bancroft, and Anthony Veneziale — about their Bay Area connections, working on a show that changes every night, and their favorite hip-hop artists from the Bay Area.
Left to right: James Monroe Iglehart, Aneesa Folds, Wayne Brady, and Anthony Veneziale. Photo by Joan Marcus.
What makes the Bay Area the perfect launchpad for Freestyle Love Supreme in 2022?
Aneesa Folds: Many members in our group have roots or have lived in the Bay Area at some point. It comes up a lot on stage so I know how much it means to them. I’m excited to soak in the city and the beautiful people who live in it. I hope to see a diverse audience that appreciates hip-hop, improv, and theater.
Andrew Bancroft: I lived in San Francisco for 13 years and have lifetime friends and memories here. Some of the first times I freestyled on stage were in Oakland. The Bay is where I reconnected with Anthony “Two Touch” Veneziale. He and I started a sister group to FLS called The Freeze, where we rapped with Daveed Diggs and James “J-Soul” Iglehart. Some of my favorite comedy performances were with my buddy Kenny Taylor as well as the sketch group Killing My Lobster. The Bay Area is constantly reinventing itself through creativity, and I can’t wait to be here for a full month interacting with its audiences.
Anthony Veneziale: I lived in San Francisco for 15 years, and coming back feels like a homecoming. We have so many friends and family out here — the Felonious crew, The Freeze, Mortified, and of course there’s an improv company I co-founded with Sammy Wegent called Speechless that still lives out here and does shows at Club Fugazi. It’s a triple Mitzvah.
What are you bringing from your Bay Area roots into the show?
Bancroft: I try to bring a little of that Oakland rap battle energy into shows. We stay very positive on stage, but there are moments where we get to express frustrations in a funny way.
I feel like the Bay’s hip-hop scene also has a strong history of fusing intelligence, playfulness, and activism. If we can take even a little inspiration from artists like Hieroglyphics and E-40, we’ll be doing all right.
Veneziale: I will be using every neighborhood insight (I see you Mission burritos/new fancy high- rises downtown/fog in the Richmond/commuters in the Dogpatch) that I can possibly muster into each show. Whatever the hometown crowd wants to give us we will run with. I’m just sad to see Buster Posey retiring!
How do you describe the origins of a show that is being rewritten every night?
Veneziale: The show started out as a way to check in with your friends and hear what’s good — it’s based on the Black art form of hip-hop born in the Bronx. Let me tell you about my day, my community, my life. We paired that with the art form of improv comedy which started as a way to help immigrant kids speak their authentic voice in Chicago (thank you Viola Spolin).
What are the fun and challenges of creating a new show every night?
Folds: Our show is completely made up every night. We get our words, stories, and ideas from the audience. They are a member of the show and we can’t do it without them. That’s what makes "Freestyle Love Supreme" so unique and special.
Bancroft: We try to break out of any patterns or habits that we find ourselves forming. That’s why we take new words and stories from the crowd every night, rotate the cast, and the musicians adapt to everything as well. The best way for us to keep things fresh is to truly listen to the audience. There’s infinite variety baked into the crowd each night.
What do you hope the audience will take away from Freestyle Love Supreme?
Folds: I hope they walk away feeling joy. It’s what we need most in the world right now. After spending a year and a half inside, being able to connect with humans has been a beautiful thing. Can’t wait to laugh with you San Fran!
Bancroft: The past 2 years have been incredibly trying for people. We’ve been isolated from one another and stuck in an echo chamber of bad news. While we can’t change those headlines, we can create an hour and a half of true connection. Our show is a moment to truly listen to each other and turn our experiences into music, laughter, and even tears.
Who are your favorite hip-hop artists from the Bay Area?
Folds: Tupac, Shock G, and Kamaiyah.
Bancroft: I mentioned E-40 and Hieroglyphics, and of course you have to shout Too $hort. I also love a lot of the Quannum projects, like Blackalicious and Lyrics Born — brilliant lyrics and delivery. Can’t forget Shadow for turntablism. And how can I miss our boy, Daveed Diggs?!
Veneziale: The Hieroglyphics, E-40, Mac Dre, Daveed Diggs, clppng, Souls of Mischief, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Digital Underground (2Pac), if we include Sac then Blackalicious too!
"Freestyle Love Supreme"
January 21–February 13, 2022
A.C.T.’s Geary Theater – 415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Main image: Tarik Davis. Photo by Joan Marcus.