A few brief words about the splendiferous "Freestyle Love Supreme": dribble, jalapeños, Brexit, meniscus.
Your words will be different when you visit this hour and a half of fast-on-its-feet hip-hop marksmanship. And trust me, you'll want to be party to "Freestyle Love Supreme," which had its official opening last week at Broadway's Booth Theatre. This joyful show, the brainchild of Anthony Veneziale and "Hamilton" and "In the Heights" mates Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, is a party — a banquet of prodigious brain cells, reflexes and nerve endings applied to the task of making you merry.
And who, I ask you, isn't on board for that? Think of "Freestyle" as a game show, except cooler. The contestants are practiced in the art of improvisational rap, a skill that can fill a packed house with raucous laughter — or not. That's the scary out-on-a-limb aspect of the challenge: Keep up with your fellow rappers or die. In the showbiz sense.
Actually, the operative attitude onstage at the Booth, bathed in mellow hues and chill neon by lighting and set designers Jeff Croiter and Beowulf Boritt, respectively, is amiable mutual support, a mood inspirationally encouraged by director Kail. The rappers, members of a rotating crew that at this performance featured Utkarsh Ambudkar, Aneesa Folds, Veneziale and Miranda, take turns spinning rhymes to the accompaniment of musicians Bill Sherman and Arthur Lewis — Lewis himself a mischievous source of wit. To these performers, add the beatbox sound effects superman Chris Sullivan, and your dial is tuned to adoring.
This is where those random words come in: Veneziale, the charming major-domo, solicits them from the audience throughout the show. The ensuing format follows a tried-and-true improv route, as the cast's job is to build stories from these suggestions, which find whimsical through-lines. Surprising wordplay and split-second lyrical inspiration are highly prized; the evening lags only when the raps lapse into the prosaic, or predictable, which happens occasionally. On this evening, Folds, a newcomer to the troupe who arrived through the group's training academy — was a particular pleasure, resourceful and fearless. The female energy, too, is a welcome antidote for an act that can otherwise feel like a sweaty boys' meetup.
Miranda appears at some performances, as he did for the off-Broadway run of "Freestyle" in Greenwich Village earlier this year. (Other "guest stars" will be showcased; "Hamilton" stars Christopher Jackson and James Monroe Iglehart have regularly freestyled.) Miranda's introduction at one show electrified the Booth and boosted the energy. Supercharging the bigger Broadway house poses something of a challenge for "Freestyle Love Supreme"; the complicity of the crowd in spurring on the rappers is essential to its success, and that's a bit harder to harness in a space that isn't particularly clublike. In other words, Miranda's star power really raises the bar.
Wherever the bar is set, though, the odds remain in your favor for an experience that will take you blissfully out of yourself for a short while. And, oh, what a relief it is when your only concern is whether one of the performers will be able to work out a snazzy rhyme for "meniscus," the cartilage in your bum knee.