Surely all of us have felt down on our luck from time to time, but with the right combination of good cheer and determination, we hope to overcome whatever difficulties we may face. But our pluck might start to run short if and when we are hit by a seemingly endless barrage of misfortunes, one right after the other. In such circumstances, we may get desperate, and resort to anything that might get us out of our rut.
Put yourself in the shoes of Josh Cohen: you’re a 20-something NYU grad living in a rundown, Manhattan apartment. The money is tight and there are bills to pay, and all you can find is temp work. And to make matters worse – as if it were possible – a burglar enters your apartment one day (February 8, to be exact) and steals every last one of your belongings, except for a Neil Diamond CD. A few days later – February 14, Valentine’s Day – you receive a check in the mail for $56,000 from a certain Irma Cohen living in West Palm Beach. You come from a rather large family, so you’re not sure if Irma is a relative or not, which also means you’re not sure whether the money was meant for you. But your situation is already unenviable, to put it mildly, and that kind of money would really get you back on track. So, do you take the money and run, or return it to its intended recipient?
That’s the big moral question of The Other Josh Cohen, presented by Amas Musical Theatre and directed by Tony Award-winning orchestrator Ted Sperling (The Light in the Piazza). It’s a highly energetic new musical; it’s witty and fast-paced, but also tender and sincere. It’s a tight piece of storytelling that leaves behind no trace of excess, either in dialogue or in music. Its humor is often sharp, at times biting, but never cruel. It is, quite simply, a joy.
And that’s due in no small part to the stellar performances across the boards. Steve Rosen plays Josh Cohen, while David Rossmer plays Josh’s future self, the Josh who narrates his ordeal to the audience one year after the fact. Rossmer’s Josh is, in many ways, the real “other Josh Cohen,” the alter ego and personified conscience of the luckless dolt we see before us, throughout the show.
It’s a nice touch, really, having the Josh Cohen of the present and the one of the future on stage together, clowning around with each other and narrating their collective mishaps, well, collectively. Not only do their interactions blur the show’s boundaries between fantasy and realism, they also help reassure the audience that everything will turn out OK for Josh; without Future Josh, the show might have been bleaker than its creators would have wanted.
As if their performances weren’t enough, Rosen and Rossmer also wrote the book, music and lyrics. The Neil Diamond CD that the burglar was charitable enough to leave behind (he even stole Josh’s bunt cake!) becomes a running joke throughout, and most of the show’s numbers emulate Diamond’s distinctive sounds – the fast-paced rock rhythms and the warm, catchy melodies. Rosen and Rossmer pull off a difficult feat with flying colors: the musical numbers capture the essence of Neil Diamond just as much as they enliven the show itself.
Rosen and Rossmer certainly aren’t the only two worthy of praise. Kate Wetherhead plays several characters, from Josh’s archetypal Jewish mother to Irma Cohen herself (another Jewish archetype). Wetherhead is just as wonderful when she plays an Indian phone operator, a young woman standing in line at CVS, and an eBay junkie who lives down the hall from Josh. And to be sure, the rest of the ensemble – which would include Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, and Ken Triwush – never disappoints, either.
The show does have a few problems: even for 80 minutes, it might have been cut just a bit shorter. The final few minutes are a tad sentimental, a little cheerier than they should have been, but that’s probably because the musical continually emphasizes the fact that Josh’s apartment was burglarized on Valentine’s Day; and Josh, already at rock bottom, has no love in his life, no girlfriend to call his own. So it should come as no surprise that the show tries to make good on these absences of fulfillment. But the show’s sentimentality is more than made up for by its enduring and endearing wit, not to mention its heart of gold. And with a musical that celebrates human imperfection so candidly as this one, perhaps its own imperfections make it that much more perfect.
The Other Josh Cohen
Amas Musical Theatre
Directed by Ted Sperling
15 Vandam Street
The musical will play through November 11, 2012, Wednesday – Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and & 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. And 5 p.m.
Read Matthew Hauptman’s interview with Donna Trinkoff, Amas Musical Theatre’s Artistic Producer