“Long Way Down” debuts at Off Broadway Theater
Jason Kisare ’25 adapted Jason Reynold’s bestseller into a full musical production set entirely in an elevator.
Elishevlyne Eliason, Contributing Photographer
Originally a New York Times bestselling novel, “Long Way Down” has been transformed by Jason Kisare ’25 into a 90-minute musical exploring endless cycles of violence to be debuted this weekend.
Jason Reynolds’ 2017 young adult novel received the Printz Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Honor Book and Newbery Medal Honor Book awards. Kisare adapted it into a musical, writing all of the music in time for a preliminary reading in December. Now Kisare’s original show is appearing for the first time as a full production from Thursday, April 6 to Saturday, April 8 at the Off Broadway Theater.
“Having grown up in the theater world, I’ve become accustomed to the lack of stories centered around people who look like me, “ said Kisare. “My goal is to help fill that gap by writing us into the narrative, and this show is only the beginning. With this adaptation, I aim to breathe new life into this story by using music as a lens to uplift these marginalized voices.”
Kisare began adapting the book this past summer, which proved to be a difficult task because of the nature of the story — the entire plot takes place within a 60 second elevator ride.
The hip-hop score explores the protagonists’ internal conflict. Ghosts of his past visit him as he takes an elevator down from his apartment in order to kill the man responsible for his brother’s death, and he must decide whether or not to avenge his brother and continue the cycle of violence. This struggle is summed up in the musical’s tagline: “SIXTY SECONDS. SEVEN FLOORS. THREE RULES. ONE GUN.”
“To me, this story is about Black masculinity and the notion that mere seconds can decide whether a Black man lives or dies,” said Kisare. “Kids stuck in an endless cycle of violence within these crime ridden neighborhoods are rarely given a voice. By putting them to the forefront with this show, I hope to help people better understand their thought processes during these moments of violence.”
Kisare’s biggest challenge when creating the score was making sure “it didn’t conform to the ‘rules’ of conventional musical theater” — the songs deviate from traditional song structure of the genre, lacking rhyme and following regular speech patterns — and maintaining a sense of “urgency” within the character’s stories even though the entire story takes place in an elevator.
A lot of the songs are free from rhyming and follow the regular speech pattern of the characters in order to integrate the music and lyrics, according to Kisare. When it came to adapting the book into a musical, Kisare had to carefully lift some of the words off the page and into the sheet music.
Elsie Harrington ’25 co-produced the musical. According to Harrington, many of the lyrics were taken directly from Reynold’s prose.
“Jason has a skill of knowing exactly what music will make the words be heard and received exactly as they should be,” Harrington said. “The show is about rules, and family, and living up to expectations, and grief, and growing up, and everything else in the wake of a community tragedy.”
Harrington and the rest of the production team worked with a director, choreographer, dramaturg and projection designer from the David Geffen School of Drama and orchestrators from the School of Music. The director, Kayodè Soyemi MFA ’23, is about to graduate from the Drama School, having directed and produced at Meadows School of the Arts, Yale Cabaret, House Party Theatre, Shakespeare on Draught and the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Harrington said that though working with graduate students has logistical challenges, the older, more experienced students deepen the production’s quality.
Lead actor William Romain ’26 displays the 15-year-old protagonist’s entire range of emotions throughout the musical. He remarked that the protagonist, Will, is oftentimes an unreliable narrator because the story relies on him recounting memories from three months to seven years ago.
“You also have to recognize that some memories can hold you back, which is what happens to Will, as his mind is flooded with memories and causes him to forget how to actually feel,” Romain said.
Kisare said he would like to thank Reynolds himself for trusting him to adapt his words and allowing him to represent this specific aspect of the Black experience in a musical.
The Off Broadway Theater is located at 41 Broadway.