Elizabeth Swados Laura Shapiro - Essay

Laura Shapiro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Runaways is about anybody who's in transition, anybody who's separated," said Swados; but the songs and monologues are about one sort of distance more than any other, the distance between ourselves and our families. Parental fights, divorce, child abuse and general neglect are what the kids describe: their fantasies are about belonging. "Let me be young before I get old," is the climactic plea. "Let me be a kid." They sing about life on the street, about heroin and prostitution and violence; they also demonstrate skateboard technique, play basketball and dream….

The music composed for Runaways is as straightforward as the rest of the production, mainly variations on a few hard-hitting themes, contrasting with the plaintive monologues. "This music is the folk music of the village, the Runaways village," Swados remarked. "The music tries to cover what is consciously agreeable to their age—I use salsa, rock, jazz—and the monologues to me are music, too."…

Although its theatrical and emotional heritage is in productions like Hair, Tommy and the Joffrey Ballet's groaningly hip Trinity, Runaways successfully avoids the gaseous self-indulgence of those Broadway efforts…. Most musicals can be tied up with a bow and delivered whole; Runaways is different. There is no happy ending, no glorious resolution; the stark question, "Where do people go?/When they run away?/Where do they stay?" is never answered. The kids themselves can be strong and exuberant but the theme of loneliness and bitterness is constant. Both off-Broadway and on, what is disconcerting about the show is the rows and rows of cheerful parents applauding the anguish of their children. (p. 56)

Laura Shapiro, "Runaway Kids Find Home in Broadway Theater," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers. Inc. © 1978; all rights reserved: reprinted by permission), Issue 267, June 15, 1978, pp. 54-6.