The Other Josh Cohen
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The Other Josh Cohen

Off-Broadway play full of zip

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Steve Rosen as Josh Cohen and David Rossmer as Josh Cohen Photo by Carol Rosegg

There’s nothing about the sweet and funny off-Broadway musical “The Other Josh Cohen” that wouldn’t warm any Jewish mother’s heart. Full of zip and just zany enough to avoid sappiness, the show exudes menschlichkeit in a way that’s rarely seen. “The Other Josh Cohen” asks the question, Do nice guys ever finish first? and answers triumphantly, yes.

Conceived and written entirely (book, music, lyrics) by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, and smartly directed by Ted Sperling, the show tells the true story (at least, true according to the press notes) of aspiring writer Josh Cohen and his search for love and luck – in that order. Narrated by Rossmer, who plays present-day Josh, the story meets last-year Josh (that’s Rosen, with a mustache) just as he learns that his first-floor New York apartment has been robbed of everything except a Neil Diamond CD, and not even one of the good ones. This comes after a series of crushing romantic disappointments, which always seem to leave him alone on Valentine’s Day, or VD.

Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, and Ken Triwush play a variety of characters as well as drums, keyboards, and bass on stage. Rossmer and Rosen also play instruments as they sing and dance all over the small, cozy stage of the Soho Playhouse. The youthful simplicity of the staging gives the show even more charm, as does the constant back and forth between the two incarnations of Josh.

A week after the break-in, last-year Josh receives a letter addressed to him from someone in West Palm Beach. Inside is a check for $56,000. Who could it be from? The hilarious song “Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree” explains it could be from any of a dozen elderly relatives. Their patriarch Sam “impregnated wombs from sea to sea” and now they are all a part of the same family, “a genetic, Semitic potpourri/predisposed to colitis and severe anxiety.”

So much money really could change Josh’s run of bad luck. He could afford a new suit from Macy’s, a manly purple tie, and a computer that doesn’t take floppy discs. But now his Jewish guilt kicks in. How can he find out who sent the check? Who exactly is Irma Cohen and how is she related to him? There’s a very funny call to his parents that doesn’t help much, but eventually Josh tracks her down. Through some twists and turns, Josh does the right thing and everything turns out okay. What’s so surprising is that he gives any thought to it at all. We so rarely see the challenge of everyday ethical behavior presented on stage that it seems quite astonishing. It’s the ordinariness of Josh’s dilemma that makes it so touching.

Rossmer grew up in River Edge, and he and Rosen first met as teenagers in summer camp, where they did an improvisational sketch together. They have continued to work together as well as apart, and they have achieved a lot of success. Rossmer just left the Tony Award-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” and Rosen appeared in “Spamalot” and “The Farnsworth Invention.” Along with Sarah Satzberg and Dan Lipton, they created “Don’t Quit Your Night Job,” which combined music, improv, and skits, and toured several theaters in New York. They are now working on a television pilot and an adaptation of their off-Broadway musical “Rated P for Parenthood.”

Aside from some relatively tame references to pornography and marijuana, this is an ideal show for teens. The references won’t shock them, and the genuine sweetness of the show, as well as the warmth of its family feeling, can only do them good.

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