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Runaways – Original Cast Recording 1978

Runaways – Original Cast Recording 1978

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Synopsis

The Gathering of Runaways By Elizabeth Swados Runaways was in the works for a year. When I went to Joseph Papp in May of 1977, I had no script, no songs, no story line – just an idea and an intuition about the potential of adolescents. I wanted to make a collage about the profound effects of our deteriorating families. I wanted to explore the substitutes that people find to deal with loss of family, and how these substitutes are sometimes effective and sometimes destructive. I wanted to tap the energy of young people. I have seen them excel professionally in athletics, pop, and classical music, and I knew there was a real possibility for the same excellence in the theater – beyond “cutesiness,” and beyond cliché. From that May until the May of 1978 when we opened on Broadway, I was subsidized by the New York Shakespeare Festival and held hundreds of interviews, auditions, workshops, and rehearsals. I was uplifted by the imagination and spirit of the kids I met. I was also appalled at their potential apathy and resignation. I saw over two thousand kids at schools, community centers, and museums over the four-month period of auditions. I was looking for individuals who were ornery, athletic, imaginative, and, if not political, somehow aware that the human race is in a mess. The cast – contrary to some reports – is not made up of scraggly runaways whom I mercifully rescued from the streets. There are runaways among them, but many of the kids are from solid, or broken, families. Also there are three experienced actors who help to set a certain professional standard. During the five months of workshops and rehearsals, I wrote hours of songs and the company did multitudes of improvisations. There was an energy, a courage, an honesty in the kids that would constantly challenge my more clichéd artistic notions. Their rhythms, the look in their eyes, their way of speaking, all had their influence on me. A lot of what I wanted to write was in my head but much of what resulted came from workshops: I would ask them questions and listen to their stories. I spent hours asking myself, what would be exactly the right questions that would help me write? The kids could lie, or they could tell the truth. I watched them, felt the pressures on them, became concerned about them. Then I would go off and suddenly there would be a song, just from having been with them. The songs on this album are the folk music of a very special tribe called “The Runaways.” There is no plot or story line; Runaways is a collage of speeches and songs for their rituals. The way I work music, there is no difference between the melody and the words; you can make songs from how people talk. A melody like the Salsa or Latin of “Where Do People Go” is directly related to what the words mean. This is the music that kids disco-dance to today. “Every Now and Then” is full of the sadness we found at the shelter houses we visited, the regret the runaways felt about having to leave home. The music is Brazilian in style, with a very slow samba beat, a style that moves me most personally. It’s the saddest music there is, without being sentimental. The blues in “Minnesota Strip” is sung by an older black girl, toughened by the dangers of the street. Then a thirteen-year-old sings “Song of a Child Prostitute.” It’s a monotone because this girl is dulled. A lot of pimps on the streets of New York take these runaway children and give them drugs so they don’t know what to think. They give them money, employment, nice clothes, and this creates an illusion of security. Then they intimidate them by beating them up if they don’t cooperate. It’s much the same way they were treated by their abusive parents, so they are used to it and feel like they are home. The next song is a kind of mock production number, “Find Me a Home.” It’s country-western crazy music, but since I have trouble writing anything that’s just regular, I put in some calypso and even a little oompah marching band. “The Undiscovered Son” is a chant for one of the tribe’s rituals, connecting with the theme of heroes and famous people. Kids love to fantasize, so at one workshop I said, “Pretend you’re the son or daughter of someone very famous and tell me about your life with that person.” Songs about inner dreams are always chants to me. “No Lullabies for Luis,” based on Latin music and samba, is a life-giving dance ritual to keep a junkie awake, to breathe life into him. “We Are Not Strangers” is a hobo song done to a calypso or reggae beat, a hymn for wanderers, a coming together of people who have been through hard times. “The Basketball Song” is sort of reggae, sort of blues, almost a religious celebration, a love song between a boy and his basketball. In interviews around the city, I would ask the more troubled kids, “What do you do in your spare time?” Most of their answers were things like “smoke reefer” or “beat each other up”; commonly, and constantly, the only constructive activity they could offer was “play basketball.” “Let Me Be a Kid Again” is about children’s rights and the smothering expectations that parents and teachers put on kids. But this isn’t just a song for kid’s liberation. As we grow older, we begin to apologize for playing, for sport, for joy, and we deprive ourselves of just experiencing life. One of the musical themes in the show is the juxtaposition of childhood songs with popular music – as, for instance, “Ring Around the Rosy” and “The Hokey Pokey” are sung in the background. We noticed that sixteen-year-olds in the runaway houses we visited wished they were eleven; the eleven-year-olds wanted to be eight – just so they could go home again. The “Revenge Song,” a spoof of everyone’s fantasies about getting back at their parents, is old-time ragtime striptease music. “Enterprise” takes the spoken word and sets it to rhythm. One of my favorite things in the world to do is to take mountains of words and fit them into measures. There’s gorgeous music in the spoken voice that people never recognize as music. “Lullaby from Baby to Baby” is the theme song of Runaways, done in a very popular disco style to say that running away is a universal experience. Mothers can be runaways. Fathers can be runaways. We’re not shutting anyone out. “Sometimes” has a very melodic, popular, and loving sound. Not all runaways are hard-core. There are kids who live in mansions, or even a nice duplex, whose parents can buy them a nice jacket or a new dress but never give them a kiss, and that deprivation is as painful as not having material things. I don’t know the least thing about Punk, but “Where Are Those People Who Did Hair?” is a Punk song, intended to say that every generation has to hate the previous generation in order to define itself. The song also points out one horror of this decade, which is that the media are giving murderers a lot of publicity. In our workshops I found that this freaks out a lot of kids. If there’s anyone that this song hates, it’s not the people who did Hair, it’s the media. When some parents see the show, they sit there, they sweat, and they say, “Don’t accuse us. It’s not fair.” “To the Dead of Family Wars” is a very important piece because it’s the one moment where we say it’s not your fault, it’s not anybody’s fault. It goes back to Adam and Eve. It offers forgiveness so that people can understand, so that maybe somewhere we can stop creating a world of runaways. I wrote the last song, “Lonesome of the Road,” for the kids. It speaks in a very simple, conventional way of the difference between being alone and being lonely. It’s their favorite song and you can tell they love singing it. It’s a song of hope, a song of strength, and, like all of Runaways, a song of life. Runaways is first and foremost a celebration and a tribute to the highly unusual spirit of its young cast. I am a great admirer of any young person who is surviving this confusing decade. I think adolescence is a time filled with incredible, blunt, curious, furious energy. Although the words and music of the piece express the pain and confusion of any runaway, child or adult, the performance of a special cast demonstrates the potential of the human spirit.

– Elizabeth Swados, 1978; Copy Editor: Tom Carlson. Abridged 2011 by Lucy E. Cross

Credits

Hubbell: Bruce Hlibok A.J.: Carlo Imperato Jackie: Diane Lane Lidia: Jossie De Guzman Melinda: Trini Alvarado Nikki Kay Kane: Nan-Lynn Nelson Manny: Randy Ruiz Eddie: Jon Matthews Sundar: Bernie Allison Roby: Venustra K. Robinson Lazar: David Schechter Eric: Evan Miranda Iggy: Jonathan Feig Deidre: Karen Evans EZ: Leonard Brown Luis: Ray Contreras Mex-Mongo: Markk Anthony Butler Jane: Kate Schellenbach Interpreter for Hubbell: Lorie Robinson Mocha: Sheila Gibbs Additional Vocalists: Paula Anderson, Jerome Dekie, Karin Dekie, Lisa Dekie, John Gallogly, Rachel Kelly, Timmy Michales, Toby Parker, Ben Werbolowsky Written, Composed, and Directed by Elizabeth Swados Piano: Judith Fleisher Bass: John Schimmel Percussion: Leopoldo F. Fleming Flute & Sax: Patience Higgins Drums: David Sawyer Guitar: Elizabeth Swados Additional musicians: Jeff Hest, Larry Morton, Mark Green, Austin Hall, Lou Soloff, Marvin Stamm, Craig Snyder, Angel Allende, S.A. Humphrey