by Tobin James Mueller and Randyl Appel

Runners In A Dream is musical drama set in the magical and poignant dreamworld of a girl as she tries to escape the horrors of WWII. Based on a true story of courage and transcendence, this beautiful and buoyant musical follows Ilse Steltzer as she hides from the Nazis and survives the work camps. As a child, Ilse uses her incredible imagination to escape an unacceptable reality.

What to do but call upon heroes who inspire and remind us of our own beauty, our own greatness.  If we can’t seem to find the Promised Land in our own lives, can we borrow it from the pages of others?

Ilse is visited by imaginary friends and literary heroes that jump off the pages of her precious books.  Perhaps the likes of Harriet Tubman and Moses can coax Ilse to "run" from sorrow, toward memory and possibility.

The script and music of Runners In A Dream are unique and inspiring.   “In an age of adaptations and revivals, I find that  this completely original work makes a bold and beautiful entrance on to the NY stage.  Unlike any Holocaust story ever presented before, RUNNERS IN A DREAM is a delicate dance blending the heart of The Diary of Ann Frank, The Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden and Brigadoon.”


If you would like to reserve a seat for the next reading or review a script and composer's demo CD, please contact:

Tobin James Mueller
800 553-4058
cell: 646 361-8751
Online bio and other information

Randyl Appel
cell: 646 296-6736

a synopsis

Act One takes place both in Ilse’s dreams and in the basement where she and her infant sister are hiding, under the care of her elderly grandfather, Opi, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. They have hidden in this basement for over two years in a vain attempt to escape the deadly reach of the Holocaust. Opi tries to fill the role of Ilse’s parents, who have been taken away, but he is getting too old; and Ilse’s infant sister, Hilde, is growing desperately sick...

Although Opi tries to engage Ilse with childish games and attempts to keep her focused on her responsibilities, especially to her infant sister, Ilse prefers to read and dream, frequently escaping into her imagination. As Act One progresses, Ilse becomes less able to discern the line between dreams and reality, eventually joining her imaginary friends as they become runners in a dream, runners who, in order to survive psychologically, must help Ilse escape the very real horrors that threaten to engulf her.

Ilse draws on three main imaginary characters: the literary heroes of the Biblical Moses and the American slave Harriet Tubman brought to life from the pages of the books she reads; and a sprite-like imaginary friend, The Boy, who writes down all of Ilse’s stories into his omnipresent journal. Can she find the Promised Land in one of their stories if she can’t find it within her own? Moses and Harriet are a dual conscience, with Moses calling on Ilse to deal with reality in a straight forward manner and Harriet playfully looking for ways to be free. But Ilse’s true moments of peace come when she is visited by The Boy. He helps her cope with the tragedies of Act One, most notably the death of her sister and her ultimate capture by the Gestapo, by helping her create visually stunning star fields and magical gardens, helping her find the courage to dream.

Act Two takes place mainly in Terrezin Stadt, a concentration work camp, although Ilse, in an altered state, seems to see everything around her as a holiday camp. Finally able to be with other girls, she revels in her new surroundings.

The near pathological buoyancy and vigor with which she embraces each experience at first annoys and then inspires those she meets. In this Act, Ilse’s main allies are played by the actors who portrayed dream people in Act One: Moses is now a learned teacher, Amichai, trying to avoid the bitterness and cynicism of his confinement. As his favorite “student,” Ilse rekindles in him hope and meaningfulness. Harriet Tubman is now a girl of sixteen, Marianna, a jaded and withdrawn victim who has been raped by the camp doctor. Ilse helps her find her inner beauty (Ilse sees her as the “dark skinned” Harriet) and convinces her to embrace the coming birth of her child. The Boy has a brief cameo as a farm boy from a neighboring village who has come to share turnips with the girl on the other side of the fence.

Ilse believes a whimsical picnic, which brings together her new and old friends in the courtyard of the camp, can hold back the tide of tragedy the Holocaust imposes. It cannot. In fact, Ilse’s imaginary picnic bonfire suddenly transforms into the all too real flames around which the most horrific scene unfolds (in a theatrical, tempered way). At this moment, when the fiction of imagination can no longer be sustained, the entire story is dramatically exposed as a memory. In a profound moment of revelation, akin to what is happening at this very moment to our main character, we realize we are witnessing the suppressed recollections of a woman who is able, for thee first time (and, perhaps, against her will) to remember her past. Every detail.

This woman, of course, is Ilse.

The Boy, that magical sprite with journal in hand, is revealed as adult Ilse’s son. He asks questions upon questions until everything comes flooding back.

The adult Ilse has repressed these events for her entire life. As she remembers, all the feelings she has suppressed become real. But what Ilse feels most is guilt:
she survived and others did not.

In the final scene, The Boy must communicate to his mother, the adult Ilse, how important it is that she has survived, how proud she should be of herself, and how moved he has been by her story. In the middle of the conversation, he turns back to the fallen child, back to the memory, and sings one final reprise about the power of dreams, the power of remembering. Then, significantly, he returns to his mother. The moment is the first moment of her healing, as she cherishes her son and begins to accept how blessed she is to have survived.

Song Demos
In Just Moments
The Letter
When's It Due (faster version)
With The Wind At My Back
Reprise (faster version
Up here (faster version)
6 Song PR Demo

Cast List

to be determined