Writer/director Elizabeth Swados' Runaways, which opened on Broadway on May 13, 1978, and ran through the end of the year, shared a style and a specific history with Hair and A Chorus Line. Like those two musicals, it was sponsored by producer Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater organization and developed out of a workshop process, eventually emphasizing an ensemble structure and functioning more as a revue than a book musical. Swados' theme is the challenges faced by inner-city adolescent runaways, including the emotional upheavals of broken homes and the dangers of drug addiction and even prostitution. Her musical approach, heavily influenced by Hair, makes use of recitative and a variety of contemporary pop and rock styles, particularly the kind of Latin and Caribbean rhythms heard frequently on the streets of New York City. Her teenage performers are enthusiastic and deliberately rough around the edges, and the band plays loose-head arrangements, which means that the performances often have a semi-professional feel not common on Broadway cast albums. But the songs are impressive, from the touching apology of "Every Now and Then" to the tall-tale humor of "The Undiscovered Son." "Where Are Those People Who Did 'Hair'" strikes the only false note, being a self-conscious rejection of what is really the show's primary predecessor and having more to do with Swados than with her runaway children. (It's also a failed attempt at punk rock from a composer who admits she doesn't know what punk is.) But "To the Dead of Family Wars," which follows immediately and leads into the finale, is a compelling tone poem that sums up the show's theme in impassioned, poetic terms. Runaways isn't perfect, which is hardly surprising since it takes great risks, but it is lively and full of exciting music and performances.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann