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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Theatre and Dance Presents a Powerful Musical About Teenage Runaways

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(Poster design courtesy MSU Theatre and Dance)
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The world of teenage runaways is a precarious one, fraught with emotional turbulence and all sorts of dangers. The Missouri State University Theatre and Dance Department weaves a theatrical and musical tapestry with Elizabeth Swados’ powerful musical "Runaways," directed by Kurt Heinlein. 

Drawn from interviews and workshops with hundreds of teens, "Runaways" weave together songs, dances, soliloquies and poems to expose the harsh reality of life on the streets. The setting is New York City in the late 1970s, yet the situations and experiences portrayed are all too familiar for many children and youth in Springfield, and around the world, today. 

“We’ve really made it current,” says director Kurt Heinlein.  “There’s nothing in the show that really feels like it’s a late-1970s sort of show.  It feels very current.  The stories are applicable to today.”  MSU Theatre and Dance received permission from the publisher and the author’s representative to make some updates to the script and certain references. “Nothing major, but things that we felt were appropriate in terms of keeping it current.  There’s a number called ‘Current Events,’ and clearly the ‘current events’ in 1979 are different than they are today!”

Despite the obviously serious nature of the subject matter, this is “very much a musical,” says Heinlein, combining childhood chants and nursery rhymes with the rhythms of rock, pop, reggae, rap, salsa, samba, country and blues.  “It’s very much a musical, but much more in the vein of Rent—I’ve heard it referred to as ‘the original Rent. It’s a very ensemble-based show... a dramatic musical.” The entire 20-person cast is on stage throughout the show.

Underlying all is the longing for a true home and family.  Kurt Heinlein calls it “a show that’s filled with hope—and questioning.  Not just about why things happen the way they do, but how we’re going to address them, and how these young people are going to move forward with their lives.”

The characters — who span the spectrum of socio-economic, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds —talk about why they ran away from home, their daily struggles and their hopes for the future. They are at once vulnerable and tough, and their stories are both touching and unsettling. “One of the most powerful things about the show,” says Kurt Heinlein, “is that I think we make assumptions about kids that have run away, that are living on the streets, that they come from certain types of families.  And this show uncovers the un-truths of those assumptions.”

Performances of "Runaways" in the Craig Hall Coger Theatre will be tonight and Saturday Feb. 13-14 at 7:30pm and Sunday the 15th at 2:30pm.  For ticket information call 836-7678 or visit www.missouristatetix.com.