The first time I spoke to Steve Rosen, almost 10 years ago, I credited him with sole responsibility for the Broadway production of “Spamalot.” Forget Monty Python. It was a Steve Rosen production.
Rosen played Sir Bedevere as well as several other characters, and of course participated in the chorus of the song that generated the most audience reaction, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway.” It went like this:
In any great adventure,
that you don’t want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews.
The song went on to suggest that without Jews all you’ll get is boos. Your show won’t be saved even with great reviews, if you don’t have any Jews.
It turned out I was wrong. After the story was published, director Mike Nichols approached Rosen and said “You’re not the only out Jew in this production.”
Rosen offered that postscript in a phone conversation about his latest production, “The Other Josh Cohen.” It opens February 23 at the Paper Mill Theatre in Millburn, N.J., in what Rosen hopes is a pre-Broadway run.
The show originally ran off-Broadway for a brief Hurricane Sandy-interrupted run. But good reviews have prompted producers to resurrect the show.
Curt Schleier: I thought it was an inventive show and great fun. Where did that come from?
Steve Rosen: I was living in Los Angeles and [co-writer] David [Rossmer] — we’ve been friends since childhood — was out for a visit. We had written a television pilot we were shopping around to the studios. The night before a big meeting we started writing songs. We wanted to do something reminiscent of Neil Diamond. We eventually wrote seven songs, most of which are in the show today. The idea is loosely based on our experiences growing up in the Northeast having parents we love and who love us.
I know you don’t want too much revealed about the show — even though reviews in the Forward and elsewhere give the entire plot away. Within those limits, however, can you say a little bit more about how you came up with the idea?
It came from David and I figuring out a great way to act in something together. We thought, wouldn’t it be funny to have one lead character we could both play, splitting the role. I don’t know how we came up with the idea of one of us telling the story and the other living it. We were also looking for something without a huge check that doesn’t take a whole bunch of people.
You had great reviews, several prestigious award nominations and bad luck.
Right in the middle of the production Sandy came blowing through and turned off all the power. But the reviews attracted the attention of [producer] Kevin McCollum, who is taking it to the Paper Mill.
The Paper Mill is a great theater that had become an incubator for Broadway productions. “Newsies” debuted here and so did “Honeymoon in Vegas,” which is scheduled for Broadway in the fall. Is that your goal?
Yes. We’re hoping if the show does well there, we can bring it to Broadway. It’s become a terrific venue for new musicals to try out in front of an audience that is similar to what you’d get on Broadway. The theater itself is comparable to what you’d get in Broadway and it is far enough away that you can tinker with a production, make the necessary changes you need, all without coming under the scrutiny you would while working on Broadway. Also the people are lovely.
You’ve come along way from Rochester, Where you grew up.
Rochester, home of the Jewish Ledger, a wonderful publication I know my parents read. I went to Temple Sinai and I was bar mitzvah-ed. My Torah portion was about lepers, I remember. I had one of the more graphic parts of Leviticus, I believe.
Overall, you have been kind of lucky in your career. There’s an interesting story about how you landed your role in the family, right?
I was working for the casting director as an audition reader. Mike Nichols saw me and hired me for the play. I just filmed a movie with Al Pacino. That was humbling. I only have a couple of lines, but I got to breath the same air as Al Pacino.
How To Be More Than One Josh Cohen at a Time