Behind ‘Freestyle Love Supreme,’ Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Improv Dream


On Wednesday (Oct. 2) at the Booth Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda showcased a spectacular opening night of his third Broadway show: Freestyle Love Supreme.

Founded by Miranda, castmate Anthony Veneziale, and director Thomas Kail in 2004, Freestyle Love Supreme was originally a hip-hop improv group. Fifteen years later, after an off-Broadway reboot earlier this year, Miranda, Kail, and Veneziale added new members to the group and transformed it into a fluorescent Broadway production. 

Starring Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Aneesa Folds, Arthur Lewis, Kaila Mullady, and Chris Sullivan, Freestyle Love Supreme is not a standard scripted musical. Audience members are meant to be fully immersed in the show, with the requirement that phones are placed in a Yondr locking pouch before taking their seats. Without a narrative, the cast rely on creative audience prompts to start their performances. The show is different every night, taking the crowd's thoughts and spinning them into clever — sometimes outrageous — raps, songs, and dances.

"Every night's a sandcastle," Miranda told Billboard at the after party at the Second Floor event space. "We build this awesome sandcastle, and then tomorrow we'll build a new one. Literally, your suggestions are the show."

Not even the cast remains the same from show to show, as rotating guest stars like Miranda himself, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Wayne Brady, Kurt Crowley, and James Monroe Iglehart jump in from performance to performance.

With opening night featuring nine guest stars, the star-studded audience — including Ryan Reynolds, Josh Groban, Yasiin Bey, and Joe Keery — were fully engrossed from start to finish. Segments like a perfectly crafted rap by Ambudkar about kicking tantrum-throwing toddlers in the head — which he later joked to Billboard his wife was "very mad" about — Miranda, Folds, and Iglehart's R&B recreation of two audience members' 22-year love story, and the full cast's final dramatic ballad about a pilates instructor's love for sample sales elicited cheers and additional prompts from the crowd. 

That energy is exactly what Miranda hopes the audiences get from the show, "because that's how [energized] I feel when I finish doing the show. It's the only production I've been a part of that I have more energy when I'm done than when I started."

Kail agreed with Miranda, telling Billboard that he only has one word for how he hopes the show makes the audience feel: Joy. "I want people to walk in feeling one way and walk out eight inches taller."

During the final bow, after emotionally sharing Freestyle Love Supreme's origin story, Kail added to that sentiment of hope. "We can take the space that is Broadway and open the door a little wider."