Review Roundup: Encores! Off-Center's RUNAWAYS

By: Jul. 08, 2016
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New Your City Center's Encores! Off-Center series is back and better than ever! The series will kick off the 2016 season with Runaways through July 9th. RUNAWAYS is set in 1977 when Liz Swados spent several months observing and interviewing child Runaways before shaping their stories, fears, and fantasies into a musical. A deeply unconventional work in its day, Runaways feels like the funkiest, most heartbreaking mixtape ever to come out of a 1970s boom box, packed with reggae anthems, hip-hop, soul-food lullabies, and spoken-word poetry. The Encores! Off-Center production will honor a theater visionary who was ferocious, inspiring, and left us far too soon.

With a Book, Lyrics, and Music by Elizabeth Swados, choreography by Ani Taj, music direction by Chris Fenwick and directed by Sam Pinkleton, Runaways is an event you don't want to miss.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, New York Times: They're tearing up the air at New York City Center, where a pulsing reincarnation of Elizabeth Swados's "Runaways" is testifying to the atomic power of adolescent angst. This blast of undiluted teen spirit, which opened Wednesday night as the first offering in the Encores! Off-Center summer season, is guaranteed to leave you feeling windblown, hyped up and ready to race through the most torpid summer night.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Lines like "we are not strangers" and "the world is an orphanage for grown-ups" now stick out as thematic indicators. Being a runaway, however real it remains at Covenant House, is halfway toward metaphor at City Center, where even garden-variety alienation (or mere theatermania) counts as a rough childhood. I don't think Swados, who died in January, at 64, would have minded; it's hard to complain when the result is so electrifying. Among her last instructions to the production team were: "Make the drums loud!"

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: It's not surprising that there's a discernable lack of grittiness in the Encores! Off-Center revival of Elizabeth Swados' Runaways. When the show was first produced at New York's Public Theater and then on Broadway in 1978, its performers included many actual teenage runaways found by its creator in community centers and shelters (as well as a 13-year-old Diane Lane). While this current incarnation boasts about being "cast largely with students from throughout the five boroughs," its populous ensemble includes recent veterans of such Broadway shows as Matilda, School of Rock, Finding Neverland, Mary Poppins and The King and I. The only thing these preternaturally talented young performers appear to be running away from is the stampede of agents eager to sign them.

Matt Windman, amNY: The large, multiethnic cast (comprised mainly of local high school students) is appropriately young and raw, giving an air of powerful authenticity to the material. Among them is Sophia Anne Caruso, who made a striking professional debut a few months ago in the David Bowie musical "Lazarus." In an eerie, blank-faced monologue, she describes her daily routines as a prostitute under the firm control of her pimp. It would be a shame for this production to slip away after its short run ends on Saturday. Might The Public Theater consider giving "Runaways" a home again?

David Finkle, Huffington Post: Examined now, if not then, Elizabeth Swados's Runaways-the first of this summer's City Center Encores! Off-Center revivals, looked to have been another conscious or possibly unconscious attempt to provide additionally significant funds for the downtown institution, which opened the production in 1978 and quickly moved it to Broadway-as Hair and A Chorus Line had done. Once there, however, it had only a modest run.

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