Lin-Manuel Miranda marries improv and hip-hop in ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ It’s a show even C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore could love

Freestyle Love Supreme is an improv rap show even Tipper Gore and C. Delores Tucker could enjoy.

Its presence on Broadway is yet another indication of hip-hop’s continued evolution from its birth in the black-and-brown South Bronx of the early ’70s to now. And so, just as one can now buy a Dapper Dan creation from Gucci itself, one can also attend a rap-flavored improv show on Broadway for about $60 to $200, depending on where you’re sitting. Which means that, in the ever-expanding tent of hip-hop, there’s even room for a famously squeamish former second lady.

The Broadway show, now running through Jan. 5 at the Booth Theatre in New York, is akin to a marriage of Wild ’N Out, Nick Cannon’s popular MTV show, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? presented as live theater. Before he found success with Hamilton and In the Heights, Miranda co-created Freestyle Love Supreme with his buddies, Hamilton director Thomas Kail and actor Anthony Veneziale.

From left to right: Chris Sullivan, Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady perform in Freestyle Love Supreme. The show is structured around a few set pieces, and the rappers introduce themselves and show off their individual talents.

Joan Marcus

Some background: In 1985, Gore, future second lady, testified before a Senate panel, advocating for warning labels on music after she bought a Prince album for her daughter, who was 11 at the time, and realized that it was inappropriate for her. Gore then went on a crusade on behalf of the Parents Music Resource Center that resulted in the “parental advisory” sticker that accompanies music with explicit lyrics. Similarly, in the early ’90s, Tucker was a vocal opponent of gangsta rap (especially Tupac Shakur’s) and organized rallies outside of music stores, protesting the violent and misogynistic lyrics that characterized the genre.

Like every improv show, Freestyle Love Supreme is dependent on audience energy and participation and therefore is heavily dependent on the weirdo quotient of its ticket buyers. Before the show starts, attendees are encouraged to write down words and put them in a box for performers to use as prompts in the show, though yelling them out is also encouraged.

The show is structured around a few set pieces: The rappers introduce themselves and show off their individual talents. A regular rotating cast of rappers and beatboxers (Utkarsh Ambudkar, aka UTK the INC.; Andrew Bancroft, aka Jelly Donut; Aneesa Folds, aka Young Nees; Arthur Lewis, aka Arthur the Geniuses; Kaila Mullady, aka Kaiser Rözé; Chris and Sullivan, aka Shockwave) participate, with surprise guests rounding out the lineup. Veneziale, aka Two Touch, serves as MC. Veneziale is an amenable host, and Ambudkar is by far the most skilled rapper of the group, while Folds, the newest member, who rose through the Freestyle Love Supreme academy, offers a powerfully impressive singing voice besides her rapping.

They invite the audience to share stories about moments in their lives they wish they could revise, and, to close out the show, they invite an audience member to sit onstage and be interviewed about his or her day. To be selected, the person must be of voting age, must have interacted with at least three to five people, and must have actually done something that day, as the life of an agoraphobe does not lend itself to interesting freestyles — whouda thunk?!

The nights I attended, the guests were Miranda, Daveed Diggs (best known for originating the role of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton) and Whose Line alum Wayne Brady. Both nights I attended Freestyle Love Supreme, there were middle-school-age children in the audience, and for the most part, the rappers steer clear of subjects and words that would likely rile Tucker or Gore. Miranda took the liberty of dropping a generous supply of F-bombs, but he seemed to be the exception in that regard. It didn’t matter — when he hopped out of the wings, Miranda was greeted with the sort of roars, whoops and applause one might expect for a star quarterback making his entrance at the Super Bowl, not a musical theater nerd. But then, in this arena, Miranda is the Puerto Rican Johnny Unitas.

The first night I attended included a rap, drawn from an audience member’s recounting of biting her sister on the back during a visit to their grandparents’ home in Connecticut. The audience member was 3 years old at the time; her sister was 1. At the second performance, an elderly woman in the audience shared a story about having her picture taken, without her consent, as she was walking through a park. Later, she discovered that her head ended up in an issue of Playboy grafted onto someone else’s body.

And so Freestyle Love Supreme is about as anodyne a rap show as one can attend that isn’t a stop on the world tour of KIDZ BOP. It doesn’t exhibit much relationship to the John Coltrane album that inspired its name, but it does thrives on linguistic cleverness. A standout prompt was one that required the performers to tell a true story using the word “meniscus,” but Freestyle Love Supreme is largely divorced from the social critique of conscious rap, which is bound to elicit accusations of “selling out.”

Miranda’s no stranger to that criticism. Last year, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe hosted a staged reading of a new Ishmael Reed play titled The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Reed, a 1998 MacArthur “genius” grantee, took umbrage at what he considered Manuel’s ahistorical portrait of Alexander Hamilton, particularly his relationship to slavery. Reed also characterized the rapping in Hamilton as “corny” and derided the commercialism of the show (he was especially peeved that Manuel would do a commercial for American Express).

I did find myself wondering what the show would be like if the guest rapper were, say, Megan Thee Stallion or Black Thought or Erykah Badu and wishing that there was room for them to drop by and bless the audience with some rhymes. The group generally performs two nightly sets; perhaps the late-night one offers opportunities for a little more danger.

Miranda has succeeded in extending the democratization of hip-hop to those looking for a low-stakes foray into the genre and capitalizing upon it (he and Kail are also producers). Podcasters Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton once mused on an episode of Another Round that “improv is white people’s spoken word.” Sprinkle a hint of Lawry’s, and maybe some Goya Adobo, and you’ve got Freestyle Love Supreme.

After Charlottesville violence, Virginia football players see a role to play on and off the field They present a model for different people to work as a team

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Steps from the Robert E. Lee statue downtown, two white people on a bench call out to a stranger. It’s been two months since the former Lee Park was renamed Emancipation Park, and 150 years of Confederate history again came up for debate. Two days since the latest reconsideration of Confederate totems had again ended in death.

“Who are you with?” the pair demand of a black reporter, and it seems an immediate proxy for more freighted questions of history and allegiance — What side are you on? and Are you with me?

Questions hang over the city, the South, the nation, since white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally Saturday clashed with counterprotesters and a Nazi sympathizer allegedly plowed into activists, killing one young woman and injuring 19 others. Two police officers monitoring the protests also died when a mechanical failure sent their helicopter crashing to the ground. Rallies have continued around the country, and demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina, toppled a Confederate soldier’s statue.

Here, flowers and candles mark the makeshift memorial where Heather Heyer, 32, was struck, and a crowd of mourners stand close by to pay homage. Others sit, silent and staring. “Forgive us, Rest in Power, Love Always Wins,” read the messages in chalk.

But like the questions from the people on the bench, they feel incomplete to the moment — like people reckoning with the immediate aftermath of trauma while everyday instances of racism and privilege exist in plain sight. On the first workday since the tragedy, black men in brown delivery truck uniforms are unloading boxes and white men in summer suits visit the growing dedications to the fallen over lunch hour. Then everyone returns to their separate understandings of the world and how something like this could happen.

The questions don’t stay downtown, of course. The University of Virginia football team was at practice when they heard about the violence a few miles away. Team members are grappling with their own conceptions of race and hatred. It’s a moment for them to set an example, they say, and especially for the myriad lessons of football to come into play.

Daniel Hamm, an African-American tailback raised in a predominantly white community near the Blue Ridge Mountains, says he was taught not to see color, but Saturday’s violence had widened his eyes. “As student-athletes we know that we have a voice, and I think it’s time for us to put out a strong united message from the football program,” Hamm said. Racial hatred “is not welcome here — not welcome in this university, in this community, and it shouldn’t be welcome in this nation.”

Daniel Hamm, Kirk Garner and Micah Kiser

Lonnae O'Neal/The Undefeated

That’s something “the ultimate team sport” teaches, he says. In football, “you can’t do anything without your brothers being right there, doing their job right beside you.” No matter your position, everyone plays a role. You have “different races, religions, different political beliefs, so you have all these different kinds of people. There’s so much diversity you have to learn to work with. You have to put that aside for one common goal, and it really allows you to see that everyone is equal, everyone is valuable to society.”

Kirk Garner, a cornerback from Baltimore, says his faith teaches him to treat hate with love. “If there’s one true message I can give out to the youth, it’s just to not always be angry at these type of situations. There’s always other ways to overcome.” Garner cites Colin Kaepernick: “He’s a man that’s been given a platform, and he used his position to bring up the problems that are going on in America. And not only has he continued, but he’s stayed true to his word. I really respect what he’s doing, using his power to make change in the world.”

Hamm and Garner credit All-American linebacker Micah Kiser, a team leader who is from Baltimore, for urging the team to come up with a display of unity after the unrest. This football team is one of the most diverse groups they’ll ever be part of, Kiser said. “There are Polynesian kids, Asian kids, black, white, Latino, and we want to show we can come together for one common goal, to set an example for the city.” They’re taking a picture to send out over social media and working on the message. “By staying together, we can show and we can prove that that is stronger than whatever hate might be out there.”

People have to talk across racial lines in a democracy, said Kiser. “We’ve talked a lot about removals of statues and what does it mean. From my understanding and how I see it, you can’t erase history. But, at the same time, there needs to be a conversation. … Well, what does slavery mean at UVA? What did the Civil War mean to the state of Virginia? How did that affect us? How does this connect us?”

They want to play hard because they’re not just representing the school, “we’re representing Charlottesville,” Kiser said. And that extends past the UVA grounds. “Once you go down Main Street a little bit past campus, [the city] becomes a lot more black, and a lot of times a lot of people in Charlottesville might not feel that connection to the University of Virginia,” Kiser said. And they can change that.

In the office of second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall, there’s a book of quotations from the school’s founder and the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, who in his treatise Notes on the State of Virginia wrote that “blacks […] are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” Mendenhall notes the contradictions of Jefferson’s legacy.

“Growth does not happen when you’re comfortable, and the surface is not where growth is,” he said. “It’s only at the depths and in sincere dialogue.”

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s violence, the team focused on safety, routine and making sure players felt like they could talk about how they were feeling — some of the Nazi protesters were staying on the first two floors of their team hotel. Longer term, Mendenhall calls it an opportunity for character building.

Kids get messages about their physical gifts from a young age, he said, and “those are not lasting values in terms of contributing to society, making a living or giving of oneself to the community. I’m looking to creating amazing young people in their homes and communities and the world at large, rather than thinking of them only as football players. That to me is not enough of an identity to be lasting or sustainable.”

There may be a trial for the killing and injuries Saturday, and the white nationalists said they’ll return to Charlottesville, so the players will be contending with these crosscurrents for a long time.

“Here’s conflict and here’s hate and here are these other issues with free speech ironed in there somewhere, and here are these young people who really would like to do something. They don’t want to sit on their hands; they want to act appropriately, but also they want to make a difference,” Mendenhall said. They want to model unity and tolerance, something he said they’ve worked on as a team.

It’s hard to call what happened a blessing, but “the chance for outreach and a teachable moment in a program that’s new, under this backdrop, is almost perfect for the chance to do good,” said Mendenhall. And if they have success on the field, that will make their message all the more powerful.

Kiser calls the upcoming season and their mission on the football field a rallying point. “When you’re doing a lot of hard work together, nobody is worried about where you’re from. … I always say if the world could be more like a football team, we’d be better off.”

They have an opportunity to do something, Garner agrees. And if we “let this opportunity pass us, we’d be failing.”

Pots & pans: From Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, ‘throwaway’ women demand their places in history and in court Accusations against Pete Rose show a view of women that is toxic

In the wake of allegations that decades ago Pete Rose had sex with an underage girl, this week’s planned celebration of Rose by the Philadelphia Phillies, his team from 1979 through 1983, has been shelved.

Thus, Rose becomes the latest male celebrity to have his past tainted and his future shrouded by allegations of sexual abuse. Rose was barred from participating in major league baseball because he gambled on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the sex scandal puts another bolt on the door that stands between Rose and baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Of course, Rose, major league baseball’s all-time career hits leader, denies doing anything criminal. He says his accuser was 16, or that he thought she was 16, and at the age of consent in Ohio when the teenager and the then-married Cincinnati Reds star began their sexual relationship. I don’t seek to convict Rose of a crime. He deserves a full exploration of the events that prompted the allegations, just as does his accuser, who has been identified only as Jane Doe.

Whatever happens with the allegations against Rose, or Bill Cosby or any number of men accused of abusing women, the significance of privileged men being accused of abusing women can’t be denied.

For too long we’ve focused upon what sex scandals would mean to the accused men, their careers, reputations and legacies. But when we change our focus, we see that when men stand accused of abusing women it underscores grudging changes in our society. After all, powerful, prominent and popular men have always been able to sexually exploit and abuse women without fear of being held accountable for their actions: It’s not the abuse but the potential consequences that are new.

Indeed, from Sally Hemings to Jane Doe, our society continues to struggle with women maintaining sovereignty over their bodies.

For decades, Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave and nothing more, at least outside her family. Family stories about her relationship with Jefferson, America’s third president, were just tall tales about one of the nation’s most towering figures.

But today, the family stands vindicated as academic inquiry and DNA evidence have built a consensus that Jefferson probably fathered Hemings’ children.

Now a woman seeks to hold Rose accountable for a relationship that began when she was a teenager and he was a married baseball star twice her age. A few months here and there could add up to the difference between Rose having done something criminal and exploitative in the 1970s and his doing something merely exploitative.

But no matter how old his teenage lover was, Rose behaved like a man who sought to use a young woman and then ball her up and throw her away. The inconvenient truth for Rose and for others of his generation and ilk is that there are no disposable women. Indeed, the notion of disposable women is toxic and unsustainable and must not be recycled.

Women will have sovereignty over their bodies. They will say yes or no, when and how, and with whom. And men who can’t understand or respect that could find themselves in a world of hurt, as they should.

As women assert sovereignty over their bodies and control of their futures, they will be met with opposition from the bedroom to the boardroom.

But if American society is to climb toward higher ground, women must walk beside men, and sometimes take the lead, just as the nation’s female athletes did during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Since its beginnings, America has been defined by white men. Its history has been framed and interpreted through what white men said or did, thought or imagined. But it is likely that 21st-century America will be significantly defined by the actions and decisions that women of all races make for themselves, the nation and the world.

One of the telling decisions modern American women have made is that they will not be defined by the tastes and whims of men. They will not be disposable. Instead, old notions about the value of women and the men who hold them will be.

Somewhere, a teenage Sally Hemings, with her life and body her own, says no to Thomas Jefferson, and, broom in hand, chases him away.