(l to r) Steve Rosen and David Rosmer in ‘The Other Josh Cohen.’ (Photo: Caitlin McNaney)
By Ryan Leeds
Is it true? Is there actually a brand new musical in town that is not based on a major motion picture and/or reliant upon the music of a pop star? Thanks to David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, the answer is mostly “yes.”
The quantifier exists for the sake of Neil Diamond (Kate Weatherhead) who serves as a running gag throughout The Other Josh Cohen. Diamond is just one of endless pop culture references throughout this mildly entertaining tuner scheduled to run through February 24 at the Westside Theater.
Coincidentally, the show feels quite similar to I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which ran in the same space from 1996-2008. Both shows chart the difficulties of down on their luck denizens trying to find love in the city. Both employ a small cast who assume multiple characters, and both offer laughs that will appeal to a broad audience. Yet somehow, the humor in The Other Josh Cohen often feels cliché and dated.
Narrator Josh (Rossmer) begins by explaining how he was robbed on Valentine’s Day. The burglar stole nearly everything except for a Neil Diamond CD and the empty DVD case to his single pornographic film, Oversexed Injury Lawyers which, he explains, “just added insult to injury…lawyers.”
While he explains his plight, a version of Josh Cohen from a year ago (Rosen) appears to reenact the events leading up to the robbery. Slightly out of shape and donning a mustache, the awkward Josh fumbles through awkward encounters with potential dates and dodges the continuous stream of bad luck that has befallen him—until a mysterious check for $56,000 arrives in his mailbox.
Rosen and Rossmer have glorious chemistry onstage. Real-life childhood friends, it is easy to tell that they are basking in the glory of the show’s success. Prior engagements at the New York Musical Festival and a subsequent run at Paper Mill Playhouse have yielded rave reviews which are plastered on the doors of the theatre and on the show’s website. Fellow critics have likened the material to Rodgers and Hart, while another has announced that we’ll be “clutching our sides in laughter.”
I won’t deny that I did a fair share of smiling from the antics of this talented cast. Not only are they gifted with comedic timing, but they also work a double shift, serving as the onstage band. Musically, there is some catchy material, particularly in “Neil Life,” a song suggesting that Neil Diamond is the cure-all for most human travails:
When you’re stuck in real life, Neil’s the antidote/Not scared to emote/Just turn his voice on/sounds like Parmesan.
Weatherhead nails her impersonation of the overly sentimental balladeer, who appears from time to time, offering hope and inspiration to a downtrodden Cohen.
This is not a show that takes itself very seriously—how refreshing! Its core, however, still hinges on the age-old, tired notion that one must find true love to be happy—how exhausting! Also, why is there a seven-person show, set in NYC, without a single minority or person of color represented? There is a higher bar, no doubt, of finding individuals who check the boxes of singer, actor, and musician. But in a town swimming with talent, I’m confident the bar can be reached.
Rossmer and Rosen deserve accolades if for no other reason than the fact that they are infusing musical theater with an enthusiastic new score. Were they to tweak their humor with an edgier, more contemporary sensibility, it would satisfy a savvier theater crowd.
Still, there is goodness woven into the red plaid construct of The Other Josh Cohen. In our current climate of divisiveness, we’ll take it where we can get it.
The Other Josh Cohen
407 West 43rd Street, NYC
Through February 24
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on @Ry_Runner or Facebook.