Arts and Entertainment

STC’s “Runaways” Hits Close To Home

Review of STC’s production of “Runaways” and the Q&A that followed.

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When junior Sara Stebbins introduced STC’s final performance of “Runaways,” she addressed what makes this particular production—her first as a Slate member and Executive Producer—stand out at Stuyvesant. One year ago, STC’s fall musical was “1776,” a musical almost entirely about older white men. This year, she wanted to produce a show that hits closer to home. “Runaways,” a musical about children and teenagers living on the streets, showcases the most extreme versions of the universally acknowledged teenage fears and struggles: fighting or divorced parents, overwhelming political drama seeping into daily life through the news, sexual assault, and drug abuse. Originally produced in 1978, it feels freshly relevant.

Directed by sophomore Clara Yuste, junior Zeynep Bromberg, and senior Adam Elsayed, “Runaways” is an ensemble show, meaning there are no set roles. STC cast about 30 students, and divided the thematic series of abstract songs, monologues, and group numbers between them. “Runaways” is a collection of unique stories tied together under one theme: all of the characters are child runaways, living through shoplifting, prostitution, and more of what they refer to as “enterprise.” The show sends a powerful message regarding the responsibility of parents, the tragedy of stolen childhood, and the enduring spirit that it portrays but does not romanticize.

“Where Do People Go?” (not the first scene of the show, but the first group musical number), captured the effortlessness necessary for a show about angst-ridden teens, learning to survive away from the perceived support and safety of the nuclear family. The costumes were ‘70s-inspired, but not out-of-touch, appearing mostly out-of-closet. The set was a brick wall covered in graffiti of contemporary characters and the name of the show in comic lettering. Perhaps one of the most definitive aspects of the performance, however, was junior Emily Rubinstein’s energetic, engaging choreography, which kept the illusion that the cast was bursting with pent-up energy and childlike emotion.

Certain ensemble members stood out throughout the show. Senior Meredith Silfen, for example, played a deaf character, communicating only in ASL throughout the show. Sometimes another cast member translated verbally, at one point, a monologue expressed in ASL, which was projected onto the wall behind Silfen for the audience to read. Even without any spoken or sung lines, Silfen never failed to act on the same level as her peers.

Sophomore Mimi Gillies, in a pink hair bow, brought a childlike innocence to the most troubling solo, “Song Of a Child Prostitute.” Gillies held the audience in stunned silence from the opening line of the heart-wrenchingly descriptive depiction of a young girl, held captive by the coercion of a grown man. This moment, in which the rest of the cast was chilling, cast a chilling spell over the audience which set the tone for the rest of the show.

In a more upbeat section of the show, sophomores Yuvan Das and Saarah Elsayed were electric, singing about the ways they survive on the streets in “Enterprise.” Das and Elsayed (and the ensemble) easily told the audience of their creative solutions to adult-like issues, with an air of teenage joy.

Sophomore Jonathan Schneiderman’s monologue, “Current Events,” served as one of the more hard-hitting points in the already pointedly political show. Schneiderman skillfully emphasized the tension and frustration that emerges when the grimmest of the personal and the political start bleeding together in a young person’s mind.

After a standing ovation for the ensemble and the customary distribution of flowers to directors, producers, and advisors, the cast and crew moved to the empty seats in the audience. A panel of four adults took the stage: Sam Pinkleton, director of the 2016 production of “Runaways” at City Center, NicHi Douglas and Ani Taj, choreographers of the same production, and Roz Lichter, the wife and legal representation of the creator of the original show, the late Elizabeth Swados. In the Q&A that followed, moderated by Executive Producer Sara Stebbins, the four panelists showed enthusiasm not only about seeing the show they all loved reborn, but also for the group of teenagers who made it a reality. More than anything else, they went back and forth with the cast and directors (with most of the audience still watching attentively), discussing the deeper meaning of the show, its contemporary implications, and the thought process behind productions old and new. Liz Swados, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 64 due to complications from surgery for esophageal cancer, was an enduring topic throughout the conversation. Any listener could have gathered that putting on “Runaways” without feeling her presence is impossible. It was Swados who not only conceived the show, after realizing that no one was talking about the enormous population of homeless teenagers in New York City in the ‘70s, but also held workshops with homeless youth as research for the show.

“Runaways,” for all its disturbing moments and melancholy theatrics, is a triumphant and hopeful tribute to the timeless journey of adolescence. Though it was no easy task, STC’s fall production did the show justice with an earnest, committed cast, who made it easy to remember that for once, the characters in the school musical and the students making and watching it aren’t a million worlds apart.