Sometimes you admire a show for the subtlety of the direction. Shows with lots of plot and well-developed characters need a masterful, yet invisible directorial hand. But shows like RUNWAYS – a joint production between CCM and Know Theatre of Cincinnati – require a firm grip and clear, obvious vision. Luckily, the Joseph Weinberger Chair of Acting for the Lyrical Stage, Vince DeGeorge, is in the driver’s seat for this 77 minute production.
It’s technically a musical, but this is different from most of the productions done in the gorgeous theatres on campus. It’s the right kind of musical to be performed at Know, which prides itself on being an “artistic playground.” DeGeorge (who also choreographed), music director Luke Flood, and the large cast of Musical Theatre majors get the opportunity to explore something very different from a traditional, commercial show.
Elizabeth Swados wrote this piece, which premiered in 1978, and in some ways the show – especially the way DeGeorge has staged it – reminds me of “Godspell.” DeGeorge, with permission from the Swados estate (she died in January), has edited and re-ordered some of the numbers. And while it has occasional musicality vibes in the same vein the Schwartz classic, lyrically its much darker. Swados wrote this show based on real conversations with runaway teenagers in New York City. But even with such dark themes of prostitution, rape, domestic violence, abandonment, and abuse, there are some hopeful moments and an energy to this production that prevents it from being a total bummer.
As expected, the performances are outstanding. A true ensemble piece, we don’t really learn many characters’ names and when we do, they really don’t matter. We move quickly from vignette to vignette, monologue to monologue. DeGeorge, who has been teaching acting for the musical theatre department for the last three years, showcases this component of the “triple-threat” CCM is known for with his giant cast of twenty-two.
Standout performances include monologues by Louis Griffin, Tyler Jent, Jordan Miller, and Zack Triska as well as vocal performances by Alex Stone, Ciara Harris, Marissa Hecker, and others. Dylan Mulvaney, a sophomore, wows with his very physical performance and senior Tyler Sodoma practically steals the show with his musical number and the aftermath of it. He’s hilarious at first; heart-wrenching shortly after. The rest of the cast is equally proficient and work together to keep the pace of the show moving. Also in the ensemble: Delaney Guyer, Kendall McCarthy, Emily Ashton Meredith, Jenny Mollet (who also assistant directed the show), Gabriela Rodrigues, Emily Royer, Shauna Topian, Amanda Valenzuela, Bryce Baxter, Dylan Dougal, Zach Erhardt, Donelvan Thigpen, and Kyle Pollak (who learned sign language for this role).
Also notable is the fight choreography from k. Jenny Jones and dialect coaching of Foster Johns. Flood’s piano accompaniment is spot on throughout as is guitar work from Erhardt. DeGeorge makes good use of the space, placing his actors upstage, near the wings, on the seating-risers, keeping them visible for most of the show.
My only criticism would be that the book and music feels somewhat dated. The source material, which DeGeorge mined through to find the very best stuff, was likely cutting edge and novel for its time. But in 2016, it loses some impact. However, this cast does a remarkable job in bringing these monologues and songs to life with honest emotion and beautiful vocals. I highly recommend it.
I hope this collaboration is the start of something between CCM Musical Theatre and Know Theatre. They both can benefit from a partnership like this one; for Know, future Broadway triple threat talents on their stage and for CCM, a place to experiment with non-traditional work. It seems like a win-win to me.
RUNAWAYS plays through the weekend with matinee and evening performances both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25 and are available at Know Theatre. Click here for more information.