Anthony Veneziale Leads Improv Riffs, Revives Our Lives
by Barry David Horwitz
“Freestyle Love Supreme” is a wonderful new kind of theater. After all, they have become a movement, a school, a national juggernaut for developing new talent. They are lively, timely, involving, and life-affirming.
We are looking at a wall of speakers and amps, all lit up in pinks and blues that rise and fall with the action. And the action is improv hip-hop, based on stories and words shouted out from the audience. The charming crew that make up “Freestyle Love Supreme” (FLS) are smart, super-quick, and rockin’.
Anthony Veneziale (Two Touch), in a pork-pie hat, brings his crew from New York to lead their FLS National Tour, and his rap, his speed, his quickness with words and people are fascinating to behold. He never misses a beat, introducing his Tony-Award winning team, and telling his 13 years in S.F.
The whole team makes the show feel local—with personal stories from these amazingly talented hip hop singers and dancers–including Andrew Bancroft (aka Jelly Donut), Jay C. Ellis (aka Jellis J), and Aneesa Folds (aka Young Nees). They are New York sassy and S.F. comfy.
FLS is a movement, a view of the world, a crusade for understanding and empathy that has spread all over the country since 2004. It’s a show that quickly increases our understanding of each other. Their hilarious lyrics, made up on the spot, their sexy dancing, and Veneziale’s brilliant conversation weave a brilliant web. Veneziale, its creator, developed the styule with the “Hamilton” crew of Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Now, it’s a national treasure: the Harlem Globetrotters of Hip-Hop!
What sets them all apart—is their devotion to FLS and their years of training; they bring honesty, fun, and wit to every story. They throw a mike in a soft box into the crowd. And they manage to get revealing words like “Destiny” and “Beyonce” and “Babies” shouted out from the audience–to make into jazzy riffs and startling beat-box rhythms.
And then they choose one story and turn it into a hip hop song and dance in just a few seconds. They whole crew is more amazing than any magic show–they’re fast, funny, and inspiring.
They turn one man’s story of his day—waking up his kids, getting them ready for school, driving down #101 to teach science–and then they riff on it, magnify it, turn his day into musical gold right in front of us. Magical.
In fact, they point out how all our lives can be turned into understanding and art, using the musical skills they have honed. Try their classes in S.F., now open.
How does FLS combine storytelling, interviewing, and hip-hop, blending them into astounding crazy quilt of lyrics, beats, and steps? Answer: with the tremendous skill and precision. A joy to behold at every moment! They didn’t get that Tony Award for nothing . . .
In addition, each show is different—new audiences with new words and stories. FLS is a rotating whirlwind of super-talented artists—singers, dancers, improvisers—so, we can go back and see a whole new show every night!
FLS inspires us to observe, listen, and make art of our lives. Bravo Veneziale! What a joy to watch storytelling musicians at the peak of their artistry. Gold Medals for the whole FLS Team!
“Freestyle Love Supreme” –conceived by Anthony Veneziale, created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, & Anthony Veneziale, directed by Thomas Kail, at American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco. Info: ACT-SF – to February 13, 2022.
Cast: Andrew Bancroft, Richard Baskin, Jr., Kurt Crowley, Jay C. Ellis, Aneesa Folds, Kaila Mullady, Morgan Reilly, James Rushin, Chris Sullivan, and Anthony Veneziale.
Banner photo: “Freestyle Love Supreme” onstage. Photo credits: Kevin Berne