PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, Stars and Creators of The Other Josh Cohen

Playbill.com chats with David Rossmer and Steve Rosen at opening night of The Other Josh Cohen, the new musical written by and starring the duo at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse.

Steve Rosen
Steve Rosen (Photo by Jerry Dalia)

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David Rossmer and Steve Rosen are writers and stars of The Other Josh Cohen, which premiered Feb. 23 at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, following its fall 2012 run at New York City's SoHo Playhouse. Rossmer and Rosen each play the title character — down-on-his-luck Josh Cohen — a year apart. Rossmer's Josh narrates the story, which begins a few days shy of Valentine's Day, when a single and extremely broke Josh (played by Rosen) is robbed and left with only one Neil Diamond CD in his apartment. Almost a week later, Josh Cohen receives a check — with a hefty sum — in the mail, but realizes that it actually belongs to another Josh Cohen. Conflicted, "Narrator Josh" recounts the series of events that led him to present day and a (mostly) happy ending. Following their opening-night performance, Rossmer and Rosen talked about the beginnings of The Other Josh Cohen and its latest incarnation at Paper Mill Playhouse.

You developed The Other Josh Cohen at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and SoHo Playhouse, but where did the project first begin?
Steve Rosen: David and I met each other at summer camp when we were teenagers at French Woods [Festival of the Performing Arts] in upstate New York.
David Rossmer: We became fast friends, and then years later — a couple years ago — we were in Steve's sublet apartment [that he rented] in Los Angeles, and we were going into a meeting for a television show we had written, and we were nervous, so he said, "Let's play Mario Kart." He put it on, and the music came on. I said, "That sounds like Neil Diamond's song," and there happened to be a guitar on the wall. We pulled the guitar off the wall, and we came up with a song, and we had so much fun [that] we started to write all these songs in the style of Neil Diamond. When we were done, we said, "Let's make a show out of this." And so, we literally wrote a show around these silly songs we [wrote where] the lyrics were [taken off] takeout menus.
SR: " Samuel Cohen's Family Tree" was [inspired by] a menu for a Korean barbecue restaurant…! Annie's Korean Barbecue. We wrote about six or seven songs that night, and what's amazing is that most of them are still in the show.

SR: We developed a show called V-Day, which went to NYMF, and [producer] Lily Fan saw our show there and brought us to the SoHo Playhouse with Amas [Musical Theatre].
DR: [Producer] Kevin McCollum saw it there…
SR: …And brought us up to Paper Mill, and that's how we got to this theatre tonight.

Did you always plan for the actors in the show to also play instruments and function as the band as well as the characters?
DR: The script is written so that it can be done in any way. You can do it with 50 people and a band; you can do it with two guys and a guitar. We always thought anyone should be able to do it any way they want. This is just the way that [director] Ted [Sperling] wanted to do it.
SR: Ted Sperling, the director of our show, is an amazingly accomplished musician in his own right and music director, so we collaborated on this idea of, "The easiest way to do this show is if we don't have a separate orchestra for us…" We were trying to do it as cheaply as possible, so if we have the actors playing the instruments and standing up and talking… That's how that happened.

David Rossmer
Photo by Jerry Dalia

The Other Josh Cohen is billed as a "true story." Were you pulling from your real-life experiences? What were the conversations you had together while writing it?
SR: We dredged up some of the funniest stories that our families have had. David and I both come from very loving families, where we have a lot of great stories, so a lot of them are dredged up from stories of ours. Some are just created based on themes and on people we know and love.
DR: Yeah, we say it's a true story. In a lot of ways, that's accurate because it's a lot of true stories mixed together, and then we tried to put it in the context of a well-written show. It came pretty organically. We wrote it really fast — in a couple of months, really — and then we have been fine-tuning it ever since.
SR: We've never done a reading or a workshop of it. All of our development has happened in actual productions of this show.
DR: I think we were just in terrible places, and we needed to write a show that would make us feel better, so that's what we did! Were you writing the show with yourselves in mind?
DR: We definitely were writing for Steve!
SR: Yes, and I am happiest when I'm on stage with David, so any time there was ever a question about someone else doing it, I always [said], " You're going to be the narrator."

Tell me about transferring the show to Paper Mill Playhouse, which is a much bigger space than the SoHo Playhouse. What excited you or what was the challenge of transferring this intimate rock musical?
DR: The truth is that we were being handheld by Kevin McCollum and Lily Fan, our producers, and no joke, they are like amazing! And, they made us feel encouraged, and they gave us the charisma and ideas of how to expand it, and their vision excited us, so we just jumped in. It was hard because you can't make the apartment any bigger. [Josh Cohen] can't afford a bigger apartment, and then [set designer] David Korins did this brilliant [construction of] a box within a box — just everybody was firing on all cylinders… But it was the producers' ideas, and we're very fortunate that they had this vision.

What's next for The Other Josh Cohen?
DR: We'd like this show to have a future, and it seems optimistic given the response!

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

Watch highlights from The Other Josh Cohen: