Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Long Way Down
Olney Theatre Center Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

Parris Lewis and Tyrese Shawn Avery, foreground; Quincy Vicks, Colin Carswell,
and Naiqui Macabroad, above

Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography
Long Way Down, now in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Maryland's Olney Theatre Center, is a boundary-breaking and important musical that uses hip-hop and R&B to tell a story of the cycle of violence and its impact on an urban community. Creators Dahlak Brathwaite (book, music and lyrics) and Khiyon Hursey (additional writing) adapted the story from Jason Reynolds' award-winning 2017 novel in verse.

The overall feeling is electric, from the intensity of Ken-Matt Martin's direction to the propulsive language and immersion in hip-hop culture (newcomers won't have any trouble, but they may want to research the genre later). At times the words flow like a river, notable for their rhythms and incidental rhymes as well as their message. The eight performers dazzle, demonstrating total commitment to their roles, supported by three live musicians positioned above the action.

The musical runs about 90 minutes, without intermission, but the action of the play takes place during a 60-second elevator ride as teenage Will (Tyrese Shawn Avery) prepares to take revenge on the man who shot and killed his older brother Shawn (Victor Musoni). Will grew up knowing the code of honor: "Don't cry. Don't snitch. Get revenge." While remembering his interactions with Shawn and worrying about their mother, Shari (IO Browne), Will hears other stories from the spirits of people who have already lost their lives to violence.

Avery is the sensitive core of this production, a teenage boy forced to grow up too fast (he has lost his father and uncle in addition to his older brother) and coming to understand that some things might not be inevitable.

The staging enhances the propulsion and drive of the drama through Simean Carpenter's dazzling scenic and lighting design: a multi-level set constructed of metal bars in bright colors, screens to allow for shadow effects, and ladders connecting to the floor. The "elevator" itself is an open box trimmed with color-changing lights and glass trim, on wheels so it can easily be propelled around the stage. Danielle Preston's costumes add to the visual appeal.

Following the Olney run, the show is scheduled to be performed at the Victoria Theater space affiliated with Harlem's Apollo Theater.

Long Way Down runs through June 23, 2024, at Olney Theatre Center, Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit

Book, music, and lyrics by Dahlak Brathwaite
Additional writing by Khiyon Hursey
Adapted from the book Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Directed by Ken-Matt Martin
Co-Choreographers: Ken-Matt Martin and Victor Musoni
Music director: Cedric Lyles
Produced in association with TheaterWorksUSA and Edgewood Entertainment

Will: Tyrese Shawn Avery
Shari: IO Browne
Shawn: Victor Musoni
Frick: Colin Carswell
Buck: Parris Lewis
Dani: Cheryse Dyllan
Mike: Quincy Vicks
Mark: Naiqui Macabroad