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The BFFs behind The Other Josh Cohen chat about their revamped show
Longtime pals Steve Rosen and David Rossmer have two rules when collaborating: 1. No jerks allowed; 2. The best idea always wins. That seems to be working for them because their musical comedy The Other Josh Cohen, which they wrote and star in, is back for its third NYC run at Off-Broadway's Westside Theatre. The show initially debuted as V-Day at the 2010 New York Musical Festival, but they trace its origins all the way back to childhood. That's when the duo met at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts Summer Camp and wrote their first pop song, "A Man and His Dog," based on a painting they saw. "We are very influenced by the things around us apparently," Rossmer says with a laugh.
He's not kidding -- the seed for The Other Josh Cohen was planted one night when they sat down to play a game of Mario Kart. The welcome screen theme sounded so much like Neil Diamond, they switched their controllers for instruments and started riffing in his style. Eventually, they incorporated those songs into a musical about Josh Cohen, an unlucky in life and love guy who's robbed of everything in his apartment on Valentine's Day except for one Neil Diamond CD. Rosen plays Josh Cohen just post-break-in while Rossmer is his one-year-later self, commenting on how much his life has changed thanks to a mysterious envelope. The characters' onstage relationship mirrors the writer-performers' real-life rapport: They finish (or clarify) each other's sentences, expand on each other's jokes and have a mutual admiration society. "We tried to capture the way we feel in a room together," Rossmer says, and Rosen adds, "That's so well said, dude. That is so right on!"
For the past 15 or so years, the buddies have pursued careers as performers on screen and stage (Rosen was in Spamalot and the 2009 revival of Guys and Dolls; Rossmer appeared in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Peter and the Starcatcher and the revival of Les Miserables), and also collaborated on projects with others (Rossmer cowrote the revue Rated P for Parenthood). But they kept returning to their friendship and The Other Josh Cohen. The show played briefly Off-Off Broadway at Soho Playhouse in 2012 and then went on to successful regional runs. For its NYC homecoming, it's got a new director, Tony nominee Hunter Foster, and several new songs, including a fresh opening number.
"We really struggled to crack the opening number nut, but finally found it with 'Only the Beginning,'" says Rossmer. "It was actually based on one of our early advertiser's suggestion for a tagline: 'Losing everything is only the beginning.' We loved it so much that it became the chorus of the song!"
Six or seven of the tunes actually date back to that night long ago when they sat down to play Mario Kart. But Rossmer and Rosen believe that even theatregoers who've seen previous incarnations of the show will be impressed by this new production. It has certainly attracted some amazing fans: Its recently released cast album boasts a jaw-dropping lineup of special guest performers, including Sutton Foster, Kelli O'Hara, Chita Rivera, Hank Azaria, Lindsay Mendez, Caissie Levy and James Monroe Iglehart.
Perhaps they're taken with how sweet, funny and optimistic this tuner is at a time when audiences are looking for that kind of pick-me-up. After all, its plot hinges on the kindness of strangers. "Kindness is in short supply these days," says Rosen. "It's very important to remind people that it's essential in our society. It's the one gift we can always give." And then Rossmer jumps in: "That's very important, yes, but for me even more profound is the idea that the game is never over," he says. "You never have to give up hope."
To read about a student's experience at The Other Josh Cohen, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for The Other Josh Cohen. Go here to browse our current offers.
Linda Buchwald tweets about theatre at @PataphysicalSci. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Steve Rosen and David Rossmer in The Other Josh Cohen. Photos by Caitlin McNaney.