The sound of bongo drums echoing across a deserted avenue draws the audience watching Wakefield High School's "Runaways" into the often mysterious world of young people fending for themselves on city streets. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1978 with an original cast of mostly amateurs, is a piece not commonly seen on high school stages. But the musical seemed to be a uniquely appropriate showcase of the abilities of the talented Wakefield cast.
"Runaways" addresses various issues that affect the lives of teenagers: broken homes, poverty, abandonment and nonconformity. But primarily, the musical seeks to emphasize the fact that everyone is running away from something, whether they realize it or not. The show, a series of monologues, short scenes and songs that offer a glimpse into the lives of several characters, is an unexpectedly honest revelation on life as an "invisible" member of society.
The spirit of the show was best characterized by the ensemble cast, which functioned as a loosely defined but unmistakable team whose characters were as close to each other as the actors probably were offstage.
While there were no specifically defined lead characters, some actors stood out by virtue of their honesty and confident energy on stage. Luis, played by Christopher Mueller, was a consistently truthful character with a comfortable stage presence. Mueller carried his character through points high and low with a sense of commitment and ownership. As Lazar, standout Adam Schiffer mesmerized audience members with his energy and magnetic movements. As Deidre, Nahid Koohkanrizi also stole the spotlight in several scenes, including a rap sequence and an impassioned monologue near the end of the second act.
The band that accompanied the actors through a variety of musical numbers (including "Once Upon a Time," which parodied elements of traditional musical comedy) helped establish the tempo and distinctive rhythms of the characters. Technical aspects of the production seemed well thought out and helped to establish mood and a sense of place and time. Graffiti-covered walls, trash cans and a rundown pawnshop set the stage for the lives of the characters. The use of spray paint, raw eggs and, at one point, Silly String helped Wakefield's cast inhabit their space and make the production their own.
What Wakefield's audience saw Friday night was a cast full of exuberance and energy that expressed itself with the spirit of truth and resolution. "Runaways" was a great choice for this talented, vivacious group because it allowed each actor the chance to shine as both a solo performer and a member of the ensemble. Cast members answered questions for their characters and raised new questions for the audience.
What are you running from?
Robinson Secondary School
To speak of Wakefield High School's production of the 1970s Broadway hit "Runaways" is to speak of the power of the material presented and the tremendous admiration the cast and crew deserves for taking on the daunting task of staging this sensitive, poignant play.
The product of playwright Elizabeth Swados's countless interviews with school-age children, "Runaways" is a telling revue, embodying the struggles of today's young people. Though the musical premiered in 1978, the Wakefield players have adapted the script to reflect current issues, all within the same applicable human vein.
The dark stage, minimal lighting and "mature audiences" warning told the audience that the musical it was about to see was not your ordinary show. Filled with realistic, street-looking costumes and graffiti-covered backdrops, the set gave the impression of a dark underworld of mankind. These children are not children.
The script is at times quiet and, at others, angry and loud. The impeccably cast players wielded the power of the material and delivered the lines with all the requisite power, energy and vulnerability the various roles required.
Swados said of her own quest to cast her original show: "I was looking for kids who were ornery, athletic, imaginative and, if not overtly political, somehow aware that the human race was in a mess."
Wakefield's students showed remarkable sensitivity to the material. One particularly memorable role was that of Deidre, played by Nahid Koohkanrizi. Though her part was smaller in the first act, her moving monologue in the second articulated the rage of the human condition that the nation's children are forced to live with: broken families, poverty, drugs, sex.
As the troubled and at times comical Luis, Christopher Mueller brought charm laced with anger and confusion to the role. As a vocalist, Mueller was strong and presented a broken, memorable weakness in his performances.
As Lazar, Adam Schiffer had an incredible stage presence that elicited laughs from the audience, breaking and even underscoring the tragic seriousness of the subject. Leaping out of the audience for one of the most memorable performances, "Find Me a Hero," Schiffer captivated the audience.
Performance numbers were interpretive and modern -- different, to say the least, from most high school musicals. A rock band provided professional-caliber music to the variety of songs ranging from rap to punk. The dancing -- from break dancing to traditional modern choreography -- gave the show energy and elegance.
At times highly satirical, "Runaways" is a show that goes beyond itself to provide the audience with insight into the darker side of modern humanity. As performed by Wakefield, it's above all a testament to both the most destructive tendencies of mankind and the resiliency of the individual spirit.
Robinson Secondary School