Multitalented 27-year-old Elizabeth Swados has what D. H. Lawrence called an intelligent heart. It's this quality of highly charged feeling shaped by insight, empathy and compassion that makes her extraordinary urban pop cantata "Runaways" an immensely affecting show. To call it far and away the best musical of the season is to insult it. "Runaways" seizes your heart, plays with your pulse, dances exuberantly across the line that separates entertainment from involvement.
Swados's runaways are the deracinated, disconnected kids of the metropolis who have been cut off from the human continuity that families are supposed to provide. As writer, composer and director, Swados over a ten-month period assembled and worked with a cast ranging in age from 11 to 20, many of them actually runaways or "problem" children. In an astonishing feat of theatrical and social creativity, she organized these young people into an expressive community that electrifies the stage with power, poignance and pride.
Swados calls "Runaways" a "collage about the profound effects of our deteriorating families." Like some lost tribe of children bivouacked in a secret playground …, the nineteen kids play out their emotions—their fear, hope, despair and defiance—in shifting deployments from solos to choruses. For Swados everything is music: "Runaways" vibrates with city rhythms from rock to jazz, from soul to salsa. Swados's songs are sonic shapes that trap and project emotion: sometimes the feeling is so urgent that there's no time for melody and the words pour out in a strafing monotone. (p. 74)
["Runaways" is an] original and enriching show. (p. 75)
Jack Kroll, "Babes Up in Arms," in Newsweek (copyright 1978 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), March 27, 1978, pp. 74-5.