Somehow, The Other Josh Cohen passed completely under my radar when it debuted off Broadway at the Soho Playhouse two seasons ago; but it is certainly making its presence known at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn NJ, where pretty much the original production and cast are being presented in a version that has been (I assume) only mildly souped up (lighting and sound design enhancements) to benefit from the extra technical bells and whistles of a theatre that usually presents far more elaborate fare. It’s one of those shows for which I have to divorce my own feelings from those of the audience—their enthusiasm was unequivocally genuine and a quick Google of its original NYC reviews suggests it was similarly regarded off-Broadway. Yet for me it falls into that category of quick-fix, youthy musicals, like First Date; though this one doesn't quite have First Date's level of craft. It splits its eponymous main character in two—played by the co-authors who wrote the parts for themselves—a hip, omniscient narrator (David Rossmer) who looks back to a scant year before; and what he looks back upon: the hapless, zhlubby, dateless, lonely and terminally geeky guy (Steve Rosen) he used to be.
I could tell you more about the story, but anything would be a spoiler because there's very little more to it—no, really—and in terms of incident it moves very slowly, in the manner of an attenuated shaggy dog story (which is kind of what it is). Its humor and humanity are in the ruminative, Seinfeldian “moments about ‘nothing’” between turning points. Physically the show stays rooted to Josh’s mostly empty apartment (we see the place being robbed clean before the show begins), though the narrative takes him “outside” a few times: and musically it delivers a mostly hard-ridin' score influenced (sometimes pointedly and specifically) by Neil Diamond. As with First Date, all actors who aren't the two leads multi-task in a number of supporting roles. Unlike their First Date equivalents, they're also part of the instrumental ensemble. And tt's all performed quite well by a committed and talented cast under the skilled direction of Ted Sperling,
From my perspective that constituted a lot of energy in the service of very little. But I hasten, though, to repeat, I was in a clear minority during the night I attended. My review here is not meant to deny the show's effectiveness, nor even to dissuade you. Indeed, think when a small, unexpected show generates this much audience good will, it probably should be seen, and certainly by anyone to whom musicals are important; I merely mean to issue fair warning to those not constitutionally disposed toward feelin' the love. Light entertainment, when it’s this light, comes down to the groove you’re plugged into.
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