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Runaways (musical)

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Original Broadway Playbill
MusicElizabeth Swados
LyricsElizabeth Swados
BookElizabeth Swados
Productions1978 Off-Broadway
1978 Broadway
2016 Encores! Off-Center

Runaways is a musical which was written, composed, choreographed and directed by Elizabeth Swados, about the lives of children who run away from home and live on the city streets. The characters were taken from workshops conducted by Swados with real-life runaways in the late 1970s.


Swados took her idea for a musical with the theme of running away "from home, from a boyfriend, from a predator,... from yourself" to Joseph Papp, who agreed to produce it. She looked for the children who would be in the musical in various places in New York City, such as a community center, and "little by little, we built a world where runaways came together, told their stories, and acted out the hardships they endured."[1] Swados did research for her project as she gathered the cast, and some in the cast were actual runaways. The show was done in a series of songs, monologues, scenes, poems, and dances.[2]


The musical premiered off-Broadway on February 21, 1978, at the Public Theater Cabaret as presented by the New York Shakespeare Festival. It moved to Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on May 13, 1978, and closed on December 31, 1978, after 12 previews and 274 performances. The director and choreographer was Elizabeth Swados, with scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt and Woods Mackintosh, costume design by Hilary Rosenfeld, and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton. In 2007, a re-worked concert version of the show produced by Jamie McGonnigal and directed by Rodney Hicks played at Joe's Pub.[3] The orchestra consisted of Piano and Toy Piano, String Bass, Congas, Timbales, Bongos, Bell Sirens and Others, Trap Set, Triangle, Glass and Ratchet, Saxophone and Flutes, and Guitar (played by Elizabeth Swados).

The musical was presented in 2016 as part of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center's concert series. It was done under the artistic direction of Jeanine Tesori and the direction of Sam Pinkleton. It was performed July 6 to 9, with a cast of 25 young performers between the ages of 12-20: Frenie Acoba, Sumaya Bouhbal, Kenneth Cabral, Maxwell Cabral, Taylor Caldwell, Sophia Anne Caruso, Xavier Casimir, Joshua DeJesus, Adleesa Edwards, Aidan Gemme, Reyna Guerra, Matthew Gumley, Christina Jimenez, Kylie McNeill, Cele Pahucki, Sam Poon, Siena Rafter, Claudia Ramirez, Ren, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Deandre Sevon, Jeremy Shinder, Ripley Sobo, Chris Sumpter and Maxwell Vice. Elizabeth Swados was supposed to have been involved with this production, had she not died earlier in 2016. Tesori said: "Since we can’t do 'Runaways' with her, we’ll now do it for her."[4] This production was restaged at the Delacorte Theater in June 2018 for two days only to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Runaways, with much of the Encores! cast reprising their roles.[5]

Original Broadway cast[edit]

  • Hubbell — Bruce Hlibok
  • Interpreter for Hubbell — Lorie Robinson
  • A.J. — Carlo Imperato
  • Jackie — Rachael Kelly (Diane Lane played the role at the Public)
  • Luis — Ray Contreras
  • Nikki Kay Kane — Nan-Lynn Nelson
  • Lidia — Josie de Guzman
  • Manny — Randy Ruiz
  • Eddie — Jon Matthews
  • Sundar — Bernie Allison
  • Roby — Venustra K. Robinson
  • Lazar — David Schechter
  • Eric — Evan H. Miranda
  • Iggy — Jonathan Feig
  • Jane — Kate Schellenbach
  • Ez — Leonard D. Brown
  • Mex-Mongo — Mark Anthony Butler
  • Melinda — Trini Alvarado
  • Deidre — Karen Evans
  • Mocha — Sheila Gibbs
  • Ensemble - Toby Parker
  • Ensemble - Timmy Michaels (Michael Demetrious)

Synopsis summary[edit]

20 "multi racial, multi ethnic" children explore the "fragmented" life of the runaway[6] in an inner city. Through songs, monologues and poems the children examine and explain why they are runaways. They are abused, come from broken families, or are in an orphanage. The children show a range of emotions, and are seen as victims but also "perpetrators". They "plead with their families and society 'Let Me Be A Kid Again.'"[7]

Songs and scenes[edit]


According to Cecil A. Smith, "It was a novel show, even for a period of musical theatre that sought novelty. Angry, disturbing, and ultimately too prosaic for sustained musical flight, it was complete proof that Elizabeth Swados had new plans for the musical and that she had the talent to realize them.[8]

Harold Clurman wrote: "Though the show offers a number of attractive features, only a few of them are actually congruent with its theme...There are...a few charming numbers: one of them is called 'Enterprise' derisive of our national fetish...The Swados music is utilitarian rather than lyrically or dramatically expressive-it is employed, as in the Japanese or Chinese theatres, as sound to call attention to signal moments...Even if I had liked more of the numbers than I did, I would still have thought 'too much show!' ".[9]

The New York Times reviewer wrote of the Public Theater production that the show was an "inspired musical collage... [it] takes a harsh and uncompromising look at the world of runaways, but it is written and performed with great compassion." The music is "disco, salsa, country and western and blues...Not just the songs, but the soliloquies and poems - some of them contributed by members of the cast - are also deeply personal...In all aspects 'Runaways' is a triumph."[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Off-Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1978 Obie Award Best Direction Elizabeth Swados Won

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1978 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Elizabeth Swados Nominated
Best Original Score Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Elizabeth Swados Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Nominated
Outstanding Music Nominated


  1. ^ Swados, Elizabeth. At play: Teaching Teenagers Theater, Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 0-571-21120-8, pp.xxix- xxii
  2. ^ a b Gussow, Mel. "Stage:Inspired 'Runaways' ", The New York Times, March 10, 1978, p. C3
  3. ^ Gans, Andrew. " 'Runaways' in Concert presented March 25" Playbill, March 25, 2007
  4. ^ Clement, Olivia. " 'Runaways' Begins Tonight at Encores!" Playbill, July 6, 2016
  5. ^ Clement, Olivia. "The Public Theater Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Runaways With Central Park Gala Performance". Playbill. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  6. ^ Jones, John Bush. Our Musicals, Ourselves:A Social History of the American Musical Theater, UPNE, 2003, ISBN 0-87451-904-7, p. 287
  7. ^ Filichia, Peter. Let's Put on a Musical!: How to Choose the Right Show for Your School, Community, Or Professional Theater, Watson-Guptill, 1997, ISBN 0-8230-8817-0, p. 173
  8. ^ Smith, Cecil A. Musical Comedy in America:From The Black Crook to South Pacific, From The King & I to Sweeney Todd, Routledge, 1987, ISBN 0-87830-564-5, p. 320
  9. ^ Clurman, Harold. The Collected Works of Harold Clurman, Hal Leonard Corporation, 1994, ISBN 1-55783-132-7, pp. 902-903

External links[edit]