Regional Reviews: New Jersey
You Need Not Be a Neil Diamond Fan to Like Josh Cohen
Also see Bob's review of Rx
Six extremely talented and ebullient actor-musicians play three dozen roles and more than a dozen instruments in telling a shaggy dog tale filled with witty sketches and lively, entertaining pastiche songs. While four of the cast members play most of the roles, front and center are David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, the show's creators (book, music and lyrics) as Josh Cohen.
Rossmer is Narrator Josh who regales us with a story concerning convulsive events that he suffered through around Valentine's Day a year ago. Our contented narrator has changed a lot in a year, so Rosen is on hand to play the mustached, heavier, discombobulated Josh that was a year ago. For good measure, there are scenes that depict Josh's tribulations, mostly involving girls, in his childhood and when he was in college.
It is made clear that the likeable Josh has never had the ability to say the right thing in order to make himself attractive to a girl. He is now, I would guess, pushing forty, living alone in lower Manhattan, temping for "two middle managers," and hoping to find success as a writer, after abandoning the dream of his parents to pursue a career as a lawyer. I am telling you all this because it is sketched in so smoothly and effortlessly amongst the steady delight of the music and laughter that it is easy to overlook the truths and wisdom which lend weight to this buoyant enterprise.
Okay, the story. Josh comes home from his job to discover that his apartment has been broken into and stripped clean of all its contents, including his computer and the hard drive on which were all of his writings (including his unfinished novel), and a Bundt cake that was in the refrigerator. Only the empty box of a porno disc and a "Neil Diamond III" CD have been left behind on the floor. Maybe, Josh thinks, the thief rejected it because all the good songs were on the first two compilation discs.
Down at the heels and thoroughly depressed, Josh mysteriously receives in the mail, addressed and made out to him, a $56,000 check. The check is from an Irma Cohen in West Palm Beach. Josh's best guess is that Irma is an elderly relative ("Samuel Cohen's Family Tree"). However, neither of his parents is aware of any such relative. The bottom line advice which Josh gets from almost everyone is "cash the check", but the honest, good natured, ineffectual Josh chooses to make every effort to contact Irma Cohen. And, just as Narrator Josh won't tell his younger self how things have worked out for him since last year, I will not tell you what happens from here on in. However, I will note that it is, surprisingly, quite touching.
Steve Rosen employs a disarmingly charming manner as the slightly goofy, hangdog Josh. Rosen endears with a spirit of optimism which may flicker, but never dies. David Rossmer Narrator Josh proves an engaging troubadour-storyteller with wit and charm to spare.
Kate Wetherhead and drummer Hannah Elless play a plethora of rejecting girlfriends, neighbors, caregivers, various relatives (usually older Jewish women) to hilarious effect. The truth and affection which they (and their authors) find in portraying these sketch comedy archetypes manages to raise them from stereotype to recognizable humanity. This is a thin line that I'm describing, but a major pleasure here is how precisely and delightfully The Other Josh Cohen walks it.
Wetherhead delightfully portrays the largest number of diverse roles. She makes the most of the spotlight that is placed on her in the role of a (Josh Cohen imagined) Neil Diamond who rallies and inspires Cohen with the corny, cheesy, parodist, yet stirring and strong "Hang On." Neil Diamond fans who haven't yet seen The Other Josh Cohen can likely hear a close proximity to this song in their head just by knowing the title, and they will know what Josh is listening to on his headphones, when he keeps raising his fist in the air and shouting out "Today!." Elless' gallery of delightfully played roles include a lesbian neighbor who plays with the "She" Street Band. Elless is equally key band and cast member, and excels in both roles.
Musical director and keyboardist Vadim Feichter practically steals the show with his amazing comic timing and droll delivery. Just insisting (as Josh's landlord) that no one can break through his apartment door, Feichter is funny. A memorably hilarious highlight of the show is Feichter (as Josh's elderly dentist father) recording a message for his patients on his telephone answering machine. For a moment, it is as if classic Borscht Belt storyteller Myron Cohen had been brought back to life.
No slouch in the comic acting department is Ken Triwush (Bass). His elderly men include a confused neighbor "having one of my famous senior moments." Cathryn Salamone does nicely in a number of roles. Moreover, Salamone is a dynamo moving about the stage superbly playing a boatload of instruments, some of which appear larger than she is. Among her instruments are guitar, clarinet and saxophone.
Director Ted Sperling has done a superb job keeping a deceptively complex staging moving smoothly and with rapidity. Sperling has drawn the high energy, palpable enthusiasm and displays of multiple talents from his cast which are crucial to the delight that Josh Cohen offers. Andrew Palermo's lively musical staging is fused seamlessly with the Sperling's overall direction. David Korin's largely bare white walled set for Josh's stripped apartment is nicely augmented with Jen Schriever's large and complex array of lights appropriate for the lively pop rock musical numbers. There is also some urban folk music, and, even, a klezmer tune.
Costume designer Jennifer Caprio has designed almost matching checked flannel shirts for the two Josh Cohens. Narrator Josh Cohen's outfit is crisper and brighter. This is an important distinction. The attention to detail in Caprio's dozens of costumes for the multiple roles played by five of the cast members enriches the storytelling. Given the plethora of costume changes, one might logically assume that each new role would be accomplished solely with a hat and/or wig and one small garment or accessory. However, for each role (which total about a dozen for some in the cast), in addition to hats and wigs, there is a head to toe distinct full costume (including foot wear).
The Other Josh Cohen premiered at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in 2010. In October, 2012, AMAS Music Theatre produced it for a limited five week run at the Soho Playhouse. It was well received, and nominated for several awards including the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical.
Now a one-act, one hour and forty minute musical, it has expanded both in size and length from its prior productions while continuing to retain its superlative original cast. The Other Josh Cohen offers fresh and delightful, laugh filled musical entertainment.
The Other Josh Cohen continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday & Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 pm) through March 16, 2014, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 3 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.
The Other Josh Cohen Book, Music and Lyrics by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen; directed by Ted Sperling