Songstress and Broadway composer Elizabeth Swados died yesterday at the age of 64. She was a bit of a hippie after the end of the hippies, or a new age artist before the advent of new age artists — depending on how you looked at it.
Swados first made a splash with “Nightclub Cantata,” a revue produced at the Village Gate in 1977, based on texts by Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and other poets. Clive Barnes, in his review for The Times, called it “the most original and perhaps the most pleasurable form of nightclub entertainment I have ever encountered.”
In 1978 she had a breakout hit with “Runaways,” a musical revue about runaway teenagers that originated at the Public Theater’s Cabaret and made the move to Broadway, personally earning four Tony nominations. Ms. Swados wrote and directed the play, whose cast was made up of 18 troubled young people she had interviewed while researching broken families. She also composed the music, contributed the lyrics and played guitar offstage.
After Runaways, she soured on Broadway as a welcoming place for her eclecticism, calling it “a museum that’s not moving forward.” And yet Swados as much as any theater artist helped lay the groundwork for such shows as Rent, Bring In ‘da Noise/Bring In ‘da Funk, Spring Awakening and Hamilton. She never stopped being a revolutionary.
She had a profound impact on me musically. Not only what music could be, but what musicals could be.
Not for nothing, but a young actress named Meryl Streep first walked the New York stage in a Swados musical, Alice in Concert.