Review: ‘The Other Josh Cohen’ at the Westside Theatre

Making an absolutely sidesplitting return to New York for a four-month limited engagement at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre, after its original development in the New York Musical Festival and world premiere at SoHo Playhouse in 2012, The Other Josh Cohen is an irresistible laugh-out-loud rock-musical rom-com with a positive message that will leave you exiting the theater with the biggest of smiles on your face. I know I did.

Steve Rosen and David Rossmer. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.
Steve Rosen and David Rossmer. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.

Have you ever been down on your luck, soured on life, or felt that the hand of fate was pitted against you? Josh Cohen has. But what a difference a year makes! Created by and starring Drama Desk Award nominees David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, who co-wrote the book, music, and lyrics, the set-up of the lead character’s situation (which, we are told, is based on a true story) starts before the show even begins. So be sure to arrive early, turn off your cell phone, and pay attention to what’s happening on stage while you wait.

Directed by the Tony-nominated Hunter Foster (an Artistic Associate at Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Playhouse, where the show played a sold-out run in February 2014), the energy is high, the pacing is fast, and the hilarity is unceasing, as the titular figure – with Rosen portraying Josh then, Rossmer the cooler now, and the two interacting, conversing, dancing, and harmonizing with one another throughout in matching checkered shirts and jeans – looks back on who he was a year ago, provides direct-address narration to the audience, makes comments to his other self, and re-enacts the events that would change his life forever, for the better. Beginning with the robbery of his modest New York apartment (leaving him with nothing but a Neil Diamond CD), his failed attempts at dating and relationships (with a string of quirky mismatches), his concern over his dire financial straits (can he afford to spend that $2.99?), and his all-but-forsaken aspirations as a writer (after an angry ex tells him that he “should only write for people he wants to piss off”), the risible misfortunes of the nerdy but good-natured and eminently likable Cohen abound, until an envelope from a mysterious sender arrives in the mail, the contents of which test his true character and eventually lead to unexpectedly uplifting results.

Steve Rosen and cast. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.
Steve Rosen and cast. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.

The smart writing, infectious humor, and sweet underlying heart are flawlessly delivered by the pair of thoroughly engaging stars and an across-the-board terrific live on-stage band that doubles as the zany supporting cast (Kate Wetherhead, Hannah Elless, Elizabeth Nestlerode, Luke Darnell, and Louis Tucci), playing “a bunch of people” that add to Cohen’s troubles, and mastering the ingeniously funny dialogue, familiar Pop-culture references, exuberant staging of hysterical physical comedy, farcical dance numbers, and eleven wacky, relatable, and catchy songs (with music supervision by Dan Lipton). Among the standouts, in a production that never fails to amuse, are the interminable answering-machine instructions from Josh’s father, a dentist; the ensemble’s musical introduction to the long line of lovingly-parodied Jewish relatives in “Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree,” in which Josh notes that “all found love but me;” and his transformative fantasy vision of Darth Vader, Neil Diamond, and the porn star from his favorite DVD in “Hang On,” upon happily realizing that he is responsible for his own problems and master of his own destiny.

A spot-on scenic design by Carolyn Mraz, lighting by Jeff Croiter, sound by Bart Fasbender, costumes by Nikki Moody, and hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas all contribute to the high-spirited effects and overall enjoyment of this outstanding production.

While we often use the term “non-stop laughs,” The Other Josh Cohen truly provides them, with its clever jokes and witty sight gags, rollicking music and uproarious choreography, animated direction and multi-talented cast. This is one fabulously funny feel-good show that shouldn’t be missed, and another triumph for Off-Broadway, in a season of stellar offerings.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.

The Other Josh Cohen plays through Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Westside Theatre – 407 West 43rd Street, downstairs, New York City. For tickets, call (800) 447-7400, or purchase them online.

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Deb Miller
Deb has written reviews, interviews, and feature articles for Stage Magazine, theartblog, and Inferno, and is a lead writer for Phindie.com and the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice. She is a judge for Theatre Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, and previously was a Voter for the awards under the former Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Deb holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware, has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and has taught at the U of D, Bryn Mawr, Rutgers-Camden, Hussian School of Art, and Rowan University.

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