By Sarah Downs
New York City is and always shall be the place to be. In the 1970’s, however, rundown and on the verge of bankruptcy, the city was a forlorn shell, with its seedy apartments, crumbling infrastructure, and desolate parks. Even at its nadir, however, the City’s vibrant, creative spirit still burned within. The musical Seesaw opens a nostalgic window on that time. Written in 1973, Seesaw follows Gittel Mosca (Stephanie Israelson), a dancer who has migrated to the City all the way from the Bronx, in search of a career on the stage. Sassy, smart and sentimental, she is a quintessential heroine – a throwback to 1930’s as much as a creature of the 1970s.
In between auditions and classes, Gittel falls in love with a lanky Nebraskan, Jerry Ryan (Andy Tighe). Singing, heartache and plucky persistence ensue. Stephanie Israelson embodies Gittel’s bright spirit, with snappy energy that belies her tiny stature. She dances and sings well, but shines particularly in her acting, bringing us to tears or laughter from one moment to the next. Israelson rushes a few of her lines, sometimes hitting her timing a second too early, but that is easily mended. As the buttoned up mid-Westerner who arrives in search of adventure, Andy Tighe is excellent. He lands heartland earnestness without belaboring it. Ryan is a dreamboat in the making, but the mid-west is not done with him yet. Becoming a New Yorker and falling in love with a woman who is possibly the most opposite of his estranged wife as he could find has plunked him at the foot of a steep learning curve.
Director Robert W. Schneider embraces the charm of the piece, filling the stage with color and movement. Theater Two‘s stage is small and easily crowded. Of course, so is the City, but where do you go when you want to be alone? Answer: you dive into the throng. In Caitlin Belcik‘s inventive choreography, people rush along, in slow motion, in locomotion. She also gives J. Savage his star turn as the fabulous (capital F) David. Effusive, ever smiling and light on his feet, Savage clearly relishes his outsize character. He also helms the big dance number including (Hallelujah!) tap dancing.
The chorus does double and triple duty in many small roles. Morgan Hecker draws big laughs in the small role of a hospital patient, demonstrating how an actor can make a lot out of a little. All of the chorus sing and dance with equal skill. They periodically sing wordless lyrics, in a style that brought the 1970’s instantly to my mind. The singers weave a musical backdrop with their wistful “oohs” and “ahs” as they roam the stage and move between scenes. The texture of the orchestration also evokes the period. Percussionist Sarah Gartin, Musical Director and pianist Grant Strom and Josh Marcum on bass make plenty of sound. Gartin carries much of the orchestration on her shoulders with an impressive display of virtuosity on the xylophone and glockenspiel.
Not the self-consciously angst-ridden productions that too frequently hit the stage these days, Seesaw is a slow, satisfying burn. Some of the lines feel dated, but this is a show of its time, and to alter it would be a mistake. New Yorkers in the 1970’s kept the City going, banding together as they shared the City’s highs and lows. “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” could have been their anthem. Seesaw is their show, and worth a second look. Perhaps a revival at a larger Off-Broadway house…?
Seesaw, book by Michael Bennett, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Dorothy Fields; directed by Robert W. Schneider; with Kyle Caress, Chaz Alexander Coffin, Katie Griffith, Caleb Grochalski, Morgan Hecker, Stephanie Israelson, Halle Mastroberardino, J Savage and Andy Tighe.
Caitlin Belcik, Choreographer; Grant Strom, Music Director; Emily Erickson, Associate Music Director; Joshua Zecher-Ross, Music Supervisor; Ryan J. Douglass, Scenic Designer; Ethan Steimel, Lighting Designer; Matthew Solomon, Costume Designer.
Presented by The J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company at Theatre Two at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street), February 13-23. For tickets click HERE or go to Telecharge. Run Time approximately 2 hours including intermission.