Spoiler warning: The following post contains spoilers from The Other Josh Cohen. You’ve been warned.
The Other Josh Cohen’s website has a review which describes it as Seinfeld meeting Rodgers and Hart. I saw a wonderful performance of Rodgers and Hart songs at the 92Y earlier this year, so I was incredibly excited for the praise of the music. As for the comedy? I was admittedly a bit hesitant. I understand people love Seinfeld, and perhaps I should be shamed for doubting them, but it always felt too New York centric for me (admittedly before I moved to New York.) If the jokes I laughed at in The Other Josh Cohen are any indication, I should give the series another chance. The Other Josh Cohen is a truly funny musical that actually brings along a lot of heart for the ride.
The Other Josh Cohen is the story of one man—unsurprisingly named Josh Cohen—but it is told from the perspective of two different Josh Cohens, one year apart. The two leads are both Josh Cohen and dressed identically (and also the two creators of the play—David Rossmer and Steve Rosen), but the past Josh Cohen is a down on his luck sad sack. The current Josh Cohen is upbeat and noticeably happier. The current Josh Cohen won’t give away what takes place in the year in between the two versions of the character, but his demeanor gives the audience a clue it’ll be OK. This takes what could be a really depressing story of a guy who has nothing going for him and makes it feel less bleak. We relate to the times we have had really crappy times; to varying degrees, we’ve all been there.
The book is really fun in its own right, but I think what really made the musical memorable was the nonstop fun found in every song. A song as a rather bizarre ode to Neil Diamond? Fun. A song about how if Josh got money he could afford whatever he wanted including a suit from Macy’s? Fun. A song cataloguing failed Valentine’s Days of the past? Relatable and so much fun. You can actually hear the music from The Other Josh Cohen on an album now featuring Mr. Rossmer and Mr. Rosen but also Broadway superstars like Chita Rivera, James Monroe Iglehart, and Brian d’Arcy James. I’d say give this a try to people whether they have seen the show or not.
The stakes in The Other Josh Cohen aren’t high. It is just a story about one man, who isn’t striving to make any great change in the world. The Westside Theater, where the play is currently staged Off-Broadway, was a small enough venue that the performance felt appropriately intimate. The backing band, in addition to playing about 4-5 instruments each, play all of the non-Josh Cohen characters. Keeping the cast and band small might be a decision based on cost, but it is also a decision that keeps the show intimate and small. It fits the overall feel of the play perfectly.
I found myself cheering for Josh Cohen to make it out of his bad luck, and I found myself smiling and laughing through every twist and turn. There is a place for theater that is just a lot of fun, and The Other Josh Cohen hits that target wonderfully.