Monday, February 21, 2022

Theatre: Beat Box Baby

Freestyle Love Supreme - Conceived by Anthony Veneziale, Created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale, Directed by Thomas Kail, Seattle Rep through 13 March.

So, let me be honest with you. I go into these plays pretty blind. I may read the summary when we ordered season tickets, but that was months ago. I don't read the preliminary press, the interviews in the Seattle Times, the promos over on the Stranger. Yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda's name is evoked for this one in that awed "before he got famous" tone. My first warning of what is to come is usually the program book. Of course I still get a program book. I'm not an animal, you know.

In any event, my first warning for Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS from here on in) was the magenta and blue lights that swept the audience and got in our eyes. The stage itself is a wall of speakers with FLS logoed prominently (All about the branding). The actors all have rap names. The program book has a bug-splat qr code that allows you to suggest a word to be worked into the performance. The crew arrives, and, after a number on "Mike Check" introducing the team, start taking suggestions from the floor on what to rap about.

Yep, it is hip-hop improv. Lord have mercy on us all.

And yet, despite settling deep into my seat, pulling my cap down to protect my eyes, and preparing to grumble my way through the hour and half performance, I had a good time, and by the end was bopping and rocking with the rest of the audience, a mix of older regulars and younger families (I blame Encanto). It was light. It was fluffy. The rhymes were dope without being dopey. One of the suggested words was "narwhale". It was cute, and most of all, it was entertaining.

The crew is tight without being a fright (OK, I will stop doing that). Andre (Jelly Donut) Bancroft is one of the founders of the FLS academy and acts as MC, wheedling words and situations out of the audience, who in turn quickly warms to him. Anthony (Two Touch) Veneziale is a founder and one of the show's creators, and comes off as sort of the Dad of the group. Jay C (Jellis J) Ellis is the most physical of the assembly, twisting and turning as he raps. Aneesa (Young Nees) Folds has a wonderful, powerful voice, but the breakout is Kaila (Kaiser Roze) Mullady, who is a fantastic beat-boxer. Yeah, yeah, for all you folk who haven't thought about beat-boxing since the guy on Police Academy, let me say the craft has advanced and she's a wonder to behold. Musical beats are provided by Richard (Rich Midway) Baskin Jr and James (Not Draggin) Rushin. 

So, Jelly Donut wraggles words and situations out of the audience, and they tangle their raps around it. Word choices, things you hate (Big score there with "Girl Pockets"), things you love (Nature), embarrassing situations (someone who as a kid confused exlax with chocolate), and wrapped up with rapping about someone's day so far. They hit gold with that one - a young woman who was attending the show with her mom, boyfriend, and five aunts, who had been teaching belly-dancing that morning and had a local-legend, now-retired belly dancer named Mish-Mish attend the class. Those are the mileposts of this particular show, and the journey the crew weaves through them is both entertaining and impressive. Your mileage WILL vary, because that's the point of it all. 

So. Not the deepest of dives ever to develop on the Rep stage, but still pure enjoyment and a very pleasant way to spend an overcast, rainy day in Seattle. Just keep the lights our of my ancient eyes.

More later,