Steve Rosen and
Other Josh Cohen
by Julia Polinsky
That NYC rite of passage -- the break-in -- sets up just how
pathetic, geeky, and miserable is Josh Cohen’s life. (“Only the Beginning”)
Before the house lights go down, even before everyone’s seated, a thief breaks
into Josh’s apartment (terrific scenic design from Carolyn Mraz) and steals
everything but a Neil Diamond CD and a “hang in there, kitty” page-a-day
calendar. Even Josh’s Star Wars shower curtain and birdsong-clock go bye-bye.
The rest of the 90 minutes of The Other Josh Cohen spin out
the tale of how Josh seeks love (“My Best Day,” an ironic take on Valentine’s
Day); gets guidance from, believe it or not, Neil Diamond (“Neil Life”);
receives an out-of-the-blue check for a lot of money, which may or may not be
from a relative (Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree” a hilarious look at the many, many
descendants of a randy immigrant patriarch), and has to make a hard decision
about that money. Because he is a shlub, Josh does the right thing, and in this
case his good deed goes unpunished. He triumphs and gets the girl.
That’s not a spoiler. In The Other Josh Cohen, you
know from the get-go that things work out OK for Josh, because another Josh is
on stage, telling you so. Yes, there are two Josh Cohens in the show, sporting
identical untucked checked shirts; let’s call them Loser Josh (Steve Rosen) and
Cooler Josh (David Rossmer). Cooler Josh knows that all will be well, since
he’s the one-year-older and happier version of Loser Josh, and narrates the
show, singing and playing guitar, among other instruments -- kind of a
combination Greek chorus, Ghost of Christmas Future, and cheerleader.
Rosen and Rossmer also wrote the book, music, and lyrics for The Other Josh Cohen, a labor
of love that clearly has borne fruit in the way theater-dreamers pray for: work,
tryout, work more, tryout again, work more, edit, work, festival, rework, Paper
Mill Playhouse, and… off-Broadway! Kudos to the creative partnership for
sticking it out, especially to director Hunter Foster, whose seamless
management of the unlikeliest of romantic heroes, a doppelganger narrator, and
dozens of other characters look natural as can be.
The songs, which are fun enough but nothing special, sometimes
suffer from lickety-split pacing. When that many lyrics burst from the cast,
individual words get lost in the shuffle. Bart Fasbender’s sound design didn’t
help; in addition to occasional tech glitches, the production as a whole
sounded muffled. Nicole V. Moody’s spot-on costume design worked like a charm,
on every one of the zillion or so characters, and Jeff Croiter lit them all up
The show is overall fun and cute, a self-referential spin on the
careworn trope of life in the big city: looking for love, losing everything,
batting above your weight, and striking out, over and over, yet with a big
Other Josh Cohen manages to make those ideas fairly fresh, largely due to the
talent and enthusiasm of Rosen and Rossmer, and the energetic versatility of
the astonishingly talented supporting cast.
These actor/musicians play all the instruments and all the
non-Josh parts. The program lists them as: “A Lot of People,” (Jane Bruce); “A
Bunch of People,” (Louis Tucci); A Bunch of Other People,” (Cathryn Wake); ”The
Rest of the People,” (Luke Darnell) and “At Least One More Person” (Elizabeth
Nestlerode). Lightning fast wig and costume changes turn them into everyone
from Josh’s father to Neil Diamond, often hilariously. They also morph from
drummer to keyboard player, and they all play all the instruments. It’s as
lively a display of talent as you’re likely to see.
The Other Josh Cohen offers up a warm and fuzzy
feel-good 90 minutes at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs until April 7. Make a
date with Josh and keep it. You never know what’ll happen.
The Other Josh Cohen
43rd St (9th-10th)
Thurs, Fri, 7pm; Wed, Sat, 3pm and 8pm; Sunday, 3pm