"Runaways," the little show of horrors
I saw a production of Elizabeth Swados' Runaways over the weekend. The show debuted on Broadway in 1978 and ran for several months.
Since then, it has been a cult favorite for directors who recoil at Babes In Arms and want teens to do hard-hitting, "real" theater. For Runaways, Swados interviewed real teen runaways, and even put a few in the show. . .similar to what Michael Bennett did with dancers and A Chorus Line a few years prior.
Many musicals ask the audience to look at the unpleasant, the uncomfortable, or the downright awful. The heightened musical style actually amplifies the horror of reality -- each complements the other. A very incomplete list would include "If You Could See Her" from Cabaret, " "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," from South Pacific, "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Show Boat, "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd . . or "Electric Chair" or pretty much any number from The Scottsboro Boys,which I had the pleasure of seeing during its short Broadway run last year. The humor and the lyricism lengthen the dark shadows of these scenes and lend them greater impact.
Runaways has shock value, but no lasting impact. I liked some individual performances, but didn't care for the show overall. Because it's a revue, we never really get to know the characters -- only their endless misery, which makes for some tedious theater: A kid shoots heroin, a kid's parents cut his back with shards from the broken TV, two kids kill another one, a teenager can't leave her pimp. When there's no contrast, the tragedies run together. The run time was over two hours (about an hour longer than I thought it needed to be), several monologues covered the same territory, and the songs were numbingly repetitive, both thematically and musically. The message: BEING A RUNAWAY IS REALLY AWFUL! Okay, okay, we get it. We got it in the first three minutes, and after that . . . .?