The UMass Theater Department Presents: "Runaways: The Musical"
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Running November 1 through November 11, the UMass Amherst Department of Theater presents Runaways: The Musical in the Rand Theater. Directed by Lou Moreno, artistic director of New York City’s INTAR Theatre, the ensemble-based show features various styles of music, such as pop, hip-hop, jazz, and reggae, while following the stories of children and young adults living on the streets after running away from home. Originally written, composed, and directed by Elizabeth Swados, the characters’ narratives within the show were devised from real accounts from runaway youth taken by Swados during workshops in the 1970s.
“I think what makes it different from other theater pieces is our perception of what musical theater is. I think with the popularity of Hamilton this serves as an excellent opportunity to look back at some of the changes made from the traditional American musical,” Moreno argues.
In 2016, Tony-winning Jeanine Tesori tackled the same piece in a concert series featuring a cast of 25 young performers. The Department’s production features an even broader cast of 30. Consisting of actors ranging from third grade to seniors at the university, Moreno created a large cast to emphasize the growing epidemic of homeless youth, “It is not becoming a smaller problem. All too often I have worked with younger Americans either on the street or elsewhere and notice that there situation is a combination of them leaving and or being pushed aside.”
The process, led by Moreno, uniquely allowed actors to devise their own character arcs and backgrounds. Dividing up the show into monologues and reassigning songs, Moreno encourage actors to write their individual characters story to portray in the piece. “We decided who we were, where we came from, what our story was, all in an attempt to bring our own truth to the show and authenticity to each role,” theater major, Maeve Connolly ‘20 explained, “The material is super heavy. It’s hard to not take some of the weight home with you each night, but I’m surrounded by wonderful people who all understand how important this show is and as hard as it can be, we all know it is worth it. And it’s a real honor to work with someone [like Moreno] who wants to challenge you and takes pride in your achievements.
The show candidly explores a various amount of dark themes including but not limited to abuse, prostitution, revenge and fear all in the lives of these children. Pursuing a dual degree in theater and english, John Llewellyn ‘20 commended the shows unapologetic nature, “This show is unafraid to represent the hardships homeless children face all over the country. The creator Elizabeth Swados developed this work based on interviews with many different kinds of homeless youth to capture the realism of each of their stories. The show embraces diversity and is unapologetic about the difficult stories it chooses to tell.”
The set displays a playground in the midst of a construction site. The entire ensemble remains onstage for the duration of the show; milling about on the various play sites. The image of children playing on this dismal jungle gym with no escape outlines the dark realities of homeless youth still prevalent today. “When they leave the show, I hope [the audience] becomes more present and able to notice the youth that are living on the street. Hopefully this will motivate conversation. Then action. Then change,” Moreno expressed, “My concern is that we take a passive look under the title Runaways and fault the child rather than the circumstances behind their departure from home.”
A preview performance of Runaways: The Musical lands on November 1st at 7:30 PM and the show continues its two-week run November 3-4, 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. Two matinee performances will be held on November 8th at 10 a.m. and November 11th at 2:00 p.m. This production is recommended for children age 14 and up. Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $15 general admission.