Haven't you ever wished that you could go back in time and tell yourself something? You could just avoid disaster by saying to yourself "Don't forget your wallet on the store counter" or something less serious, like "Check your teeth for broccoli before the blind date." What if you could even visit your past self and reflect on a weird, crazy time in your life? Well, this is real life, you idiot. You can't. But in The Other Josh Cohen, Josh can and does just that in this new musical adventure by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen at the SoHo Playhouse.
Rossmer and Rosen, longtime pals and two of the creators behind Don't Quit Your Night Job, are multitasking as writers (book, music, and lyrics) as well as co-stars as the title character. Yes, Rossmer plays Josh Cohen in the present ("Narrator Josh"), Rosen plays Josh in the past (just "Josh Cohen"), and together they journey through this crazy true story. Josh is a genuine good guy with a streak of bad luck. Just days before Valentine's Day, he is single and broke and comes home to find his apartment completely robbed except for a Neil Diamond CD. When something mysterious comes in the mail six days later, he tries not to let his conscious take over and debates about accepting the random good fortune, all while trying to come out on top.
As Josh, Rossmer and Rosen are hilarious while somehow also being realistic and sincere. Both are charismatic, charming goofballs in hipster plaid (costumes by Dustin Cross); Rosen does well as the down-on-his-luck Josh and Rossmer as the surreal time-traveling know-it-all. The duo's quirky style makes them akin to theatrical Adam Sandlers - nice Jewish boys who write and star in their own comedies featuring a guy with a strange life situation and a romantic twist. In this case, there's also a bit of a soft-rock twist too, since Rossmer and Rosen's songs are in the style of a standard Neil Diamond album. Added to the bizarre hilarity are the two Joshes duetting, with "Narrator Josh" harmonizing on a power ballad with his former self (complete with rockstar lighting by Jennifer Schriever), or vice versa on the nearly-bare standard Manhattan apartment set (designed by Dane Laffrey).
And it wouldn't be a proper power ballad without the band. The Joshes are backed by three musicians who also cover multiple parts each: Hannah Elless (drums), Vadim Feichtner (keyboards), and Ken Triwush (bass). The most engaging of the musician-actors is Elless, who can drum with a wild intensity like Animal from "The Muppets" while also playing a slew of parts. At times stealing the show from Rossmer, Rosen, and Elless is backup singer and multi-character actress Kate Wetherhead. The petite actress is sweet but also has impeccable comedic timing, thus making her the perfect one-stop shop for oddball characters doing anything from one-line zingers to warm comforting smiles.
For a show that employs almost only stereotypical characters (the Jewish parents, the foreign apartment superintendent, etc.), it is riotously entertaining thanks to the excellent performances. It also digs deeper than just the surface as Josh's conscience battles greed and he shows his personal growth from that awful Valentine's Day as he goes from the sad sack of Josh Cohen in the past to Narrator Josh. After going along with both of the Joshes on this wild ride, you can't help but root for the good guy to finally come out on top and maybe have a better Valentine's Day next year.
Photo credit - top: Peter James Zielinski
Photo credit - middle and bottom: Carol Rosegg