Review: Going From Schlub to Slick in ‘The Other Josh Cohen’

Theater

How the authors get there is better left in their hands — and those of the five other cast members, who play dozens of characters while doubling as the show’s band and backup. And if the songs never quite develop a signature sound, except for a few that aptly invoke Neil Diamond, they make up for it in their off-center point of view.

The gravel-voiced Mr. Diamond is sketched by Kate Wetherhead, who is terrific in a role listed in the program as A Lot of People. Louis Tucci (A Bunch of People), Hannah Elless (A Bunch of Other People), Luke Darnell (The Rest of the People) and Elizabeth Nestlerode (At Least One More Person) ably fill out the quirky story.

Their quick-take skills — along with those of Mr. Rossmer (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) and Mr. Rosen (“Spamalot”) — underline the loose-limbed, unscripted feel of the material. (The authors met, as children, during an improv exercise at arts camp.) The style recalls that of musicals like “[title of show]” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” with their apparently spontaneous digressions into the odd and outré.

That effect is of course an illusion here; the authors have been refining their show for years. In 2010, under the title “V-Day,” it played a few performances at the New York Musical Theater Festival; under the current title, it ran at the SoHo Playhouse for a month in 2012. Subsequent productions at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., and the Geva Theater Center in Rochester honed but also rethought the story, direction and design.

That “The Other Josh Cohen” avoided the curse of overprocessing as it trekked from theaters accommodating a few dozen to the Paper Mill’s 1,200 is thus a bit of a miracle, not unlike the one that eventually rewards Josh for his tenacity. At the 250-seat Westside, under the unpretentious direction of Hunter Foster, it has achieved a fitting size and shape.

To take it any further, as the authors may hope, would be to tempt fate — and also to undermine the modesty of the material. “The Other Josh Cohen” is a charmer, touching on real issues without pummeling them. It doesn’t need to push harder or further; in knowing itself, it has already found its beshert.

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