Steve Rosen, Nice Guys, and The Other Josh Cohen

The Other Josh Cohen.  Production Photo by Carol Rosegg.
If the new Off-Broadway show The Other Josh Cohen is based on a true story about a nice guy who always seems to finish last, it cannot be based on the life of genuine nice guy and Broadway performer Steve Rosen.

I sat down with Rosen this week to talk about his new show (co-created with David Rossmer), his comedy heroes, his family (always there for love and support--even if he's dancing around in his underpants), and his further comic adventures on Broadway and off (While a seat filler at the Grammys, "I accidentally tripped Puff Daddy while I was trying to watch Hanson.  That’s a true story.").  It's clear things are going very well for this multi-talented performer. 

Tony Award winner and Smash star Christian Borle calls Steve Rosen a "friggin' genius" but despite such high praise Rosen is not a household name--he should be.  If you've frequented  Broadway and Off-Broadway shows for the past seven years you might have caught him performing Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at NYTW or Sir Bedevere in Spamalot or Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls on Broadway.  If you live outside of New York maybe you saw him as Nathan Detroit in the national tour of Guys and Dolls.  He's also sometimes on Law and Order: SVU as, in his own words, a "terrible public defender."  Or you might remember him from the concert series If It Only Even Runs a Minute doing a comic rendition of Ode to a Bridge from the famous flop musical Kelly (his delightful interpretation of the truly awful song starts at 5:51). 

But this season it's the name Josh Cohen that is important to Rosen.  Rosen and Rossmer (who starred on Broadway as Ted in Peter and the Starcatcher), have written the book, music, and lyrics for this new show, The Other Josh Cohen.  If that wasn't enough, they star in the show, both playing the eponymous Josh Cohen.  They have been working on the show for the past two years while still managing busy acting careers.  From the infectious energy they exude on stage, it is obviously a labor of love for them both. 

Rosen and Rossmer. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Rosen and Rossmer have been friends since they were teenagers at summer camp.  According to Rosen, the two stumbled upon the genesis for this musical in the most unlikely of ways.  As they were about to sit down and play Mario Kart on Nintendo 64, the main screen music of the video game played the same two chords over and over again.  David said that he thought it sounded like a Neil Diamond song.  They grabbed a guitar and decided to write a Neil Diamond song then and there.  Seven hours later they had nine songs and were on their way.

The show was previously called "V-Day" (in reference to some Valentine's Day plot points) and they were invited to premiere the musical at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) in 2010. The title changed to The Other Josh Cohen because as Rosen joked "[Eve Ensler] owns the V. She owns every woman’s V. Just know that women, your Vs are no longer your own. Eve Ensler owns it." Comedy aside, Rosen said the "V-day" title did not necessarily tell you what the show was about and the new title shows a little more of their sense of humor.

Rosen describes the musical as being based on a true story about “a guy named Josh Cohen [who] is very broke, he’s alone and a couple days before Valentine's Day his apartment gets robbed of everything and the only thing left behind by the thief is Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits Volume 3 which doesn’t have any of the good songs on it...and then just when things couldn’t get worse on Valentine's Day proper he opens his mailbox and finds a check from someone he doesn’t know for a huge amount of money made out to him." Josh Cohen is a nice guy who always does the right thing and must choose what to do with this check.  Rossmer plays Josh Cohen of today, and Rosen plays Josh Cohen of one year ago who is "trying to rock the mustache which doesn’t work."

The show co-stars Hannah Elless, Ken Triwush, Kate Wetherhead (co-creator of Submissions Only--check out the very funny web series where both Rosen and Rossmer have appeared), and Vadim Feichtner (also the Music Director).  It is directed by Ted Sperling.  Rosen appeared jittery with excitement a few hours before their first preview but he almost got "verklempt" thinking of their long journey to this day and finally being so close to seeing this project realized.

A self described "theater nerd," Rosen started seeing theater as a young boy on weekend trips to New York City with his father. His family has always encouraged and supported his work. Whether warmly describing how his grandmother won his father his first bicycle on a game show or mentioning his mother's phone calls to check in on how Josh Cohen is going, he clearly loves his family as well as what he does.

It seems he was destined for the stage.  His first on-stage performance of "any great import" was as a 7-year old at performing arts summer camp where he played a slave in the King and I. His costume was a grass skirt.  He was supposed to come out and bow down before the king, stand up, and leave. After bowing to the king, Rosen somehow managed to step on his skirt as he stood up and before a live audience he was left with only "little tiny 7-year old underpants on."  The audience started to laugh and he took this opportunity to do a dance (which he demonstrated for this writer--arguably the Twist with some comic flair) for the audience and they went "bananas."   Although his parents always told him he was funny kid, they believe this is where his love of performance started.

He studied at NYU and he landed his first role on Broadway in Spamalot working for one of his comedy heroes, Mike Nichols.  Rosen said, "Nichols and May were a huge influence to me as a kid because they both improvised. They improvised together. They were intelligent. They played to the height of their intelligence."  Rosen's love of theater history is great and when I asked if he had a comp ticket and a time machine what show would he see, he said, "I would love to see Zero Mostel live in something.  Because he’s one of these guys who you see in movies and you can tell that he’s larger than life and he doesn’t necessarily translate well to the medium of film....I would love to have seen him doing [Fiddler on the Roof] as written with Bea Arthur in it…and Austin Pendleton. That original Jerome Robbins production I think that would have been something amazing."

Even his recollections from the Tony Awards belie his awe and respect for theater. His favorite Tony memory is when all the acts got together to rehearse the big opening number, he recalled that "that’s the most fun. Because the gangsters from Guys and Dolls are standing next to Shrek or standing next to Billy Elliott and then Liza Minnelli is walking around going 'It’s good to see you kid.'  It’s just surreal."

At his first Tony Awards, he got to perform with his Tony-nominated show, Spamalot.  Because he was in the cast, he would be allowed to go up on stage if the show won for Best Musical.  Rosen worked it out with a seat filler and took an "empty" seat closer to the stage so that he would be better positioned to get up there quickly if they won.  He took the seat next to Liev Schreiber and when Spamalot won Rosen turns to Schreiber and "was like excuse me…[Schreiber] must have been so confused that the seat filler sitting next to him got up and went up on stage." 

Rosen may be unassuming enough to be confused with a seat filler, but give it time. With his new show, his hard work and dedication to his craft, I expect he won't remain unassuming for much longer.

The Other Josh Cohen is now playing Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse through November 11.   Tickets are available here.

Photo by Carol Rosegg