Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the busiest men working in the entertainment business today. Best known as the Tony Award-winning creator of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights, he recently finished starring in the Los Angeles run of the show, once again playing lead character Usnavi, and is now preparing the big-screen version of the musical. He has also been writing the new musical Bring It On!, which opens in Atlanta next year, along with working on a variety of other projects.
And now, on August 5, Miranda brings his talent to the Gramercy Theater in New York for a special performance of Freestyle Love Supreme, an improvisational hip-hop evening that uses audience suggestions to create hilarious songs and tremendous beats. TheaterMania recently spoke to Miranda.
THEATERMANIA: How did Freestyle Love Supreme get started?
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: All of the artists in it started together with In the Heights. It was literally a thing we did during breaks in rehearsals. Me, Chris Jackson, and Anthony Veneziale would freestyle together on the piano while everybody else was on their 10-minute break. For that to have grown into this sort of thing with 10 members is a big deal for us, and the Gramercy is the biggest venue we’ve played in New York. We’re really just chomping at the bit to get started. We might even rehearse, which is very rare, because the show is always improvised.
TM: How much of the improvisational process with FLS is similar to how you came up with the lyrics and music for In the Heights?
LM: It’s been amazing how complementary the skill set is because when you freestyle rap, you’re both writing and performing at the same time. The audience says, ‘The word is vegetable,’ and you’ve got to go! You’re shooting yourself out of a cannon, but you’re building the net you’re going to land in. There’s a certain confidence you have to have to go in front of an audience and just sort of trust your brain that it’s going to work out.
TM: What are people’s favorite subjects to have you rap about?
LM: There’s always the one guy who’s going to yell “proctologist” and “penis” and “sex.” That guy is at every comedy club in the world. We all have pop culture specialties. Anthony will ask for a geographical location. Someone will try to stump him and yell, “Burma,” and then he will do a detailed rap about the colonial history of Burma — and to knock people’s socks off, he will make it rhyme! I’ve had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly since I was 12 years old, so any time anything pop culture comes up, I’m the one to knock it out.
TM: You also perform original songs with new lyrics each night. How much of those songs come from your own lives?
LM: “True” is kind of an unplugged set, and we ask the audience for a word that’s important to them. It could be “Teddy Bear” or “ice cream.” Someone sings a hook, and then we tell a true story somehow involving that word. I have learned everything I’ve ever wanted to know about my fellow members of FLS that way. They have heard the story of my first kiss, my first sexual experience. If you have to tell a true story on the spot, you go for the good stuff!
TM: People loved you when you appeared on the TV series House this year. Any chance we’ll see lovable Alvie back on the show in the fall?
LM: Director Katie Jacobs showed the writers on House my Tony Award acceptance speech, and they based the whole character off the energy in that speech. Now, talk about a heightened moment in my life, when I’m running on pure adrenaline! Alvie was me in that mode all the time. It was really quite fun. I hope Alvie comes back, and they’ve left it open so if they can figure out a way to have me back, I’m at their service. I would drop anything for House!
TM: We can’t wait to see Bring it On! Are you having a good time working on the project?
LM: It’s been like a jam band. I am having so much fun working with Tom Kitt, Amanda Green, Jeff Whitty, and Andy Blankenbuehler, I think we’re going to make some teenagers’ heads explode with that one!