The Other Josh Cohen is rather like its plaid-shirted hero: an off-Broadway musical that, extremely considerately, won’t let itself grate on you. This is a show about a white heterosexual regular guy down on his luck, and it is also about that same regular guy not giving up, and then singing at us about why we should never give up too.
The potential for irritation is high, but in keeping the musical’s complaining, mulling, and resolving to a brisk 90 minutes and by keeping its charm and 11 songs witty and sunny, The Other Josh Cohen succeeds with a humble and open-hearted modesty—as the six Drama Desk nominations and Lortel nomination earned by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, its writers and lead stars, show.
The musical, directed with a ditzy energy by Hunter Foster, won’t shake up your world. It doesn’t reinvent musical theatre either. But it’s a lark and a polished lark at that.
Part of it is setting. The musical unfolds downstairs at the Westside Theatre, so there is an immediate intimacy to Carolyn Mraz’s set which first seems to be just Josh’s newly burgled bachelor apartment. But it has all kinds of unexpected entrances and exits, especially when it comes to facilitating a show-stealing turn by a Neil Diamond doppelgänger.
Rosen plays the Josh Cohen of the title, while Rossmer plays the Josh Cohen of a few months in the future. The first Josh is schlubby and sweet and now only possessing a Neil Diamond CD (we see the burglar as we take our seats). This Josh likes chocolate (a lot and quite right too), and feels beaten up by the world. It would be good if someone in a musical or TV show or film could just enjoy chocolate because chocolate is a good thing.
In the second Josh we see things must have turned around for him. Second, slightly in the future, Josh (Rossmer) is lean, muscular, and more focused. The difference between the two Joshes isn’t that great—and whether you find Rossmer's Josh the “better” one depends on whether you think Rosen’s Josh needs anything to aspire to. To this critic, the original Josh seemed fine on all levels, physical and psychological.
He is also successful in passing the complicated moral test for the show sets out, which is what to do when he unexpectedly receives a check addressed to him. The thing is, the sender has the wrong Josh Cohen, and the Josh Cohen in front of us, in doing the right thing, does the wrong thing for his own financial self. But this is a musical, and a good man faced with temptation and who still does the right thing will enjoy his own dramatic riches.
Both Rossmer and Rosen are a lovely double act, as vintage Josh and new Josh navigate their way through the right and wrong ways to behave in love and out of it; but what really makes the musical fun are all the subsidiary roles played (along with a panoply of instruments) by Kate Wetherhead, Louis Tucci, Hannah Elless, Luke Darnell, and Elizabeth Nestlerode.
These pop-up characters include the excellent be-wigged Diamond and the mother of the “other Josh Cohen,” who—though she never meets our hero, the man who received her son’s mail by mistake—can sense his goodness down the phone and seeks to recompense him for it. Wait too for Josh’s dad, who has the most serpentine and dad-like answering phone message, which tells the caller way more than they needed to know.
This may be exasperating, but like much facing the two same Josh Cohens on stage (and not so much the mean other Josh Cohen we never see), life is full of these odd lemons.
But face them head-on, Josh Cohen tells us, believe in yourself, believe in love, and be ready to be loved. That last message is sung most emphatically—so don’t be surprised, after smiling genially for nearly 90 minutes, if a little tear escapes your eye as the applause begins.
The Other Josh Cohen is at the Westside Theatre, New York City, until Feb. 24.