An Eternal Optimist Finally Gets His Wish in The Other Josh Cohen
Hunter Foster directs a revival of David Rossmer and Steve Rosen's musical.
Six years ago, David Rossmer and Steve Rosen's zany musical The Other Josh Cohen ran at Soho Rep. and went on to earn six 2013 Drama Desk nominations, including one for Outstanding Musical. The show's story of sad sack Josh Cohen, a hilarious modern-day Job, has returned for an off-Broadway run at the Westside Theatre, and it feels as fresh and relevant as ever. Josh's plight of finding love and surviving life in New York City is perennially relatable, while the show's nostalgic references to Star Wars, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Neil Diamond help us temporarily escape our relentlessly political present. With its cartoonish brand of comedy and zippy performances from the cast, The Other Josh Cohen is the deliriously fun musical we all need right now.
Anyone who has tried to make it in New York probably has something in common with Josh, a character Rossmer and Rosen derived from their own lives. He's a sweet, optimistic fella in a checkered shirt (costumes by Nicole V. Moody) who just can't seem to catch a break in either the love or money departments. His tiny New York dwelling (spartan but spot-on set design by Carolyn Mraz) has just been ripped off; everything's gone except a Neil Diamond CD. And his love life is terribly depressing; the day after Valentine's Day is just another chance for him to stock up on discounted chocolate. But his luck seems to change when he unexpectedly receives a big check made out to "Josh Cohen." A fateful call to the writer of the check, however, forces him to make a choice between taking advantage of a situation and doing the right thing.
The Other Josh Cohen had its first performance at the New York Musical Festival in 2010, and after Soho Rep., it ran at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in 2014. Hunter Foster takes up the director's mantle for this go-round with several cast members who've been in one or more of those productions, including the hilarious Hannah Elless and the marvelous Kate Wetherhead. Guitar-strumming Rossmer plays future Josh Cohen (also donning a checkered shirt) as he narrates the events from a year ago side by side with Rosen as past Josh, while Louis Tucci, Luke Darnell, and Elizabeth Nestlerode nimbly take on a bevy of characters from Josh's nutty life.
For 90 minutes, there's no let-up for any member of this multitalented cast. When not in a scene, they're playing an instrument and performing one of the show's 11 laugh-inducing songs (Bart Fasbender's sound design makes the lyrics crystal-clear even during the rocking numbers). Rosen sings Josh's opening lament, "One CD," followed soon after by "Neil Life," featuring Wetherhead's side-splitting appearance as Neil Diamond (sporting a feathered, '80s-hair wig designed by J. Jared Janas). When Josh tries to identify the writer of the fateful check, he reviews his lineage in the riotous "Samuel Cohen's Family Tree" and finally comes unglued in the hysterical "The Other Josh Cohen," a rock-and-roll number that's given a concert feel by Jeff Croiter's lighting.
With terrific performances, a quirky story, and memorable songs, The Other Josh Cohen is a fun ride that delivers a few good messages along with its feel-good vibe. It shows that doing the right thing can pay off in unexpected ways. It also reminds you to call your mother!