Elizabeth Swados Mel Gussow - Essay

Mel Gussow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Runaways"] is an inspired musical collage about the hopes, dreams, fears, frustrations, loneliness, humor and perhaps most of all, the anger, of young people who are estranged from their families and searching for themselves. There are moments of joyfulness and youthful exuberance, but basically this is a serious contemplative musical with something important to say about society today….

[In a mosaic of songs, monologues, scenes, poems, and dances, we are given] a complete portrait of urban children on the run. We see what prods youngsters to leave home and what disturbs—and nurtures—them in their escapes. The musical takes a harsh and uncompromising look at the world of runaways, but it is written … with great compassion….

With "Runaways," [Swados] steps right into the front line of popular American theatrical composers. This is the first musical since "Hair" to unite, successfully, contemporary popular music and the legitimate theater….

A pivotal song—an absolute show-stopper and one of a dozen or so exciting numbers—is "Where Are Those People Who Did 'Hair'," a lowdown travesty of punk rock. On one level, "Runaways" poses the question: What happened after the Age of Aquarius? With the death of Woodstock, the wilting of the flower children, America was faced with nuclear dropout. Confused and undirected, adolescents unmounted their "Easy Rider" motorcycles and looked for methods of survival. In the words of one of the more infectious songs in "Runaways," in order to survive, you've got to "enterprise."…

Actually, the [Joseph] Papp show that "Runaways" is closest to in spirit and in having a strong central theme is Ntozake Shange's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf." In common with Miss Shange, Miss Swados creates art with her nerve ends….

"Runaways" is a concerned citizen of a musical, but it is also a buoyant entertainment, filled with the bright colors, language, and vivacity of the street….

[In] all respects, "Runaways" is a triumph. It is an eloquent and mature vision, a musical that touches our hearts.

Mel Gussow, "Stage: Inspired 'Runaways'," in The New York Times (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 10, 1978, p. C3.