The Liz Swados Project – a newly-recorded tribute album to the visionary artist – features an epic family of diverse performers, composers and lyricists, who have been influenced and inspired by Elizabeth Swados as a performer, composer, lyricist, teacher, and trailblazer. The all-star cast of luminaries from Broadway, downtown and beyond, including vocalists Starr Busby, Sophia Anne Caruso, Damon Daunno, Amber Gray, Stephanie Hsu, Jo Lampert, Alicia Olatuja, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Grace McLean, and Ali Stroker, in addition to songwriter/performers The Bengsons, Heather Christian, Michael R. Jackson, Taylor Mac, Dave Malloy, Shaina Taub, and the late Michael Friedman, among others. The album – featuring the world premiere recordings of 14 songs – is produced by Lauren Fitzgerald, Kris Kukul and Matt Stine, with Kurt Deutsch and Roz Lichter serving as executive producers. Kris Kukul, Ms. Swados’s longtime music director, provides orchestrations and arrangements.
The Liz Swados Project celebrates the Swados legacy with songs from 10 of her works for the stage sung by some of the most influential performers and composers in theater today. In the words of the late Michael Friedman, who studied under Swados, "Liz is in the DNA of my work." You can hear her influence in the work of this new generation of theatrical music makers, all of whom honor her with their recordings of her songs.
Each artist performs a selection in their unique style, ranging from Vaudeville-tinged chamber pop, contemporary blues, and haunting art songs, to raw indie rock, spare classical ballads and sweeping middle Eastern-inspired choral pieces.
Works are featured from her landmark Broadway hit Runaways (1978), about the lives of children who run away from home and live on city streets, including a performance by Sophia Anne Caruso, who appeared in the show at New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series in 2016. Selections also come from Swados’ little-known masterpiece The Beautiful Lady (1984), a deeply felt meditation on the triumph and catastrophe of the Russian avant-garde; Alice in Concert, her 1981 Public Theater production which updates Alice in Wonderland, originally featuring Meryl Streep and Debbie Allen; Nightclub Cantata, the revue which became a downtown sensation in 1977, and other pieces throughout the decades. Swados herself is represented on the album, performing her composition "Bird Lament," echoing the natural world with guitar and colorful vocal sounds. Her work was featured on a 2017 concert evening for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series; Michael Friedman’s live performance of "Things I Didn’t Know I Loved" from that special show provides the fitting closing track for the album.
Swados, praised by The New York Times for her "unique style of socially engaged musical theater," iintroduced new forms to mainstream audiences – world, folk, rap and experimental music – and wrote of topics not usually seen in musical theater: racism, murder and mental illness. She defied "downtown" categorization, with her work performed at La MaMa ETC, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall and Broadway, as well as cabarets, rock clubs, churches and synagogues around the U.S. and Europe. Swados is among only a few people to have been nominated for four Tony Awards in one season, for Best Direction, Score, Book and Choreography for Runaways. As Hilton Als wrote in her obituary in The New Yorker, "(Swados) was born talented and she stayed talented, her eyes always wide with the expectation that something amazing was about to happen—and if it didn’t, she’d make it herself."
"I just remember Elizabeth as a person with an inexhaustible creative energy. The voice that emerged – unique, female, eternally young and tied to childhood – has not been duplicated in the theater." – Meryl Streep
1. "We Are Not Strangers" – Heather Christian (from Runaways, 1978)
2. "Every Now and Then" – Dave Malloy (from Runaways, 1978)
3. "Oh, King Daddy" – Amber Gray (from The Concert at the Bottom Line, 1978)
4. "The Red Queen" – Taylor Mac (from Alice in Concert, 1980 – adapted from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
5. "In This My Green World" – Stephanie Hsu, with Preston Martin
(from Alice in Concert, 1980 – music by Elizabeth Swados, lyrics by Kenneth Patchen from his poem)
6. "Take Me to Paris" – Ali Stroker (from The Beautiful Lady, 1984 – based on Russian poems translated by Paul Schmidt)
7. "Souf" – Jo Lampert (from Nomad, 2015 – music by Elizabeth Swados, lyrics by Erin Courtney)
8. "You Gave Me Love" – Alicia Olatuja (from Lullaby and Goodnight, 1982)
9. "You Do Not Have To Be Good" – Shaina Taub (from Atonement, 2007 – music by Elizabeth Swados, lyrics by Mary Oliver)
10. "Song of the Child Prostitute" – Sophia Anne Caruso (from Runaways, 1978)
11. "The Dance" – The Bengsons (from Nightclub Cantata, 1977)
12. "Salvador" – Ashley Pérez Flanagan, with Rachael Duddy and Hannah Whitney (from Missionaries, 1997)
13. "Isadora" – Damon Daunno (from The Beautiful Lady, 1984 – based on Russian poems translated by Paul Schmidt)
14. "Lonesome of the Road" – Michael R. Jackson (from Runaways, 1978)
15. "War Gets Old" – Grace McLean (from Dispatches, 1979 – music by Elizabeth Swados, lyrics by Michael Herr)
16. "A Change Shall Come" – Starr Busby (from The Beautiful Lady, 1984 – based on Russian poems translated by Paul Schmidt)
17. "Bird Lament" – Elizabeth Swados
18. "Amen" – Choir (from The Haggadah: A Passover Cantata, 1980)
19. "Things I Didn't Know I Loved" – Michael Friedman, with Rachael Duddy and Dara Orland
(from Nightclub Cantata, 1977 – music by Elizabeth Swados, lyrics by Nazim Hikmet;
recorded as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook at Jazz at Lincoln Center's The Appel Room)