Hulu’s ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme’ Explores Lin-Manuel Miranda and Improv Pals Before ‘Hamilton’
Before “Hamilton” catapulted him to stardom and made him a bona fide national treasure, actor, composer, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda was just another guy trying to make it in New York. Hulu documentary, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” details Miranda’s origins through the story of Freestyle Love Supreme, an improvisational comedy-hip-hop troupe he co-founded. Here, Miranda is just one of the guys in this feel-good film that celebrates that drive that all artists and performers have in them.
Centered around Freestyle Love Supreme’s 2019 reunion show on Broadway, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” starts at the beginning, over 20 years ago, when impovers Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale, both undergraduates at Wesleyan University, started freestyle rapping together as a way to pass the time during a road trip. Around 2002-2003, when they were working with former classmate Miranda on what would become the Broadway hit “In the Heights,” they decided to try performing their mix of hip-hop and humor in front of a crowd, and Freestyle Love Supreme was born. Their home base was a tiny theater run by Veneziale in the basement of a bookstore. The owner was kind enough to offer them the space for practice, and Miranda especially took advantage of this.
Fortunately, the film is not just talking heads and performances, as director Andrew Fried has been following the group since 2005, when they traveled to Scotland to participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and there’s a wealth of striking archival footage. A standout moment is Miranda and Kail walking through the streets of NYC with the camera on them, discussing who they think people believe they are. In Scotland, we see them read through some negative reviews of their show. Maybe it’s because they’re being filmed, but they laugh and take it all in stride, a reminder to always stay humble and not let the critics get one down.
While Miranda is no doubt the biggest draw for viewers, he is not the star of “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,” as the focus is on the ensemble. In the early days, the group expanded to include Chris Jackson, Arthur Lewis, Bill Sherman, and Chris Sullivan. Their journey continued after Miranda and Jackson departed in order to focus on “In the Heights,” and room was made for Utkarsh Ambudkar and James Monroe Iglehart. Fried does a great job of exploring how everyone brings something different to the table, their own unique talents and perspectives. The group evolves to include a female member, Aneesa Folds.
Eventually, Miranda and Jackson return, and Miranda puts it best when he says that life is non-linear. The doc charts the guys’ divergent paths, and while Miranda, Kail, and Jackson obtain wild success with “Hamilton,” Kail is adamant that performing in Freestyle Love Supreme is the “purest expression of joy” any of them has experienced onstage, and we see this in the performance footage.
But the most powerful moments come when the guys open up about more difficult topics, including the falling out between Kail and Veneziale that occurred sometime after the latter departed to San Francisco so his partner could pursue a new opportunity. But the biggest cautionary tale comes when Ambudkar talks about his early involvement in “Hamilton.” Although he originated the role of Aaron Burr during developmental readings, he was cut before the show hit Broadway due to his partying ways. This experience led him to self-reflect and kick booze altogether.
“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” begins streaming July 17 on Hulu.