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Unexpected Joy

The eternal free-spirited mother clashing with her conservative daughter story is told with charm and vigor in this sunny musical about an aging pop singer.

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Celeste Rose, Luba Mason and Courtney Balan in a scene from the new musical “Unexpected Joy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Sunny, tuneful and familiar best describes the mother-daughter conflict musical Unexpected Joy. A free-spirted aging pop singer is about to marry her lesbian lover to the chagrin of her estranged religious daughter. The accomplished score and vivid performances transcend the clichés making the predictability seem fresh.

Jump and Joy were a moderately successful pop duo who never married but had a long term romantic relationship and a daughter named Rainbow. Jump died last year and Joy is holding a memorial concert for him in Provincetown, Rhode Island. Their daughter renamed herself Rachel and has distanced herself from her Jewish parents’ counterculture sensibility.

She has arrived from Oklahoma with her rebellious 18-year-old daughter Tamara to attend the concert. Rachel married a seminarian who became a popular arch-conservative televangelist and host of The Good News Hour that Rachel sings on. Tamara has decided to be a singer-songwriter like her grandmother and is repelled by her parents’ reactionary views.

The uneasy truce between Joy and Rachel is upended by the disclosure that Joy is not only intimately involved with another singer, the fiery Jack Daniels nipping African-American woman Lou, but also intends to marry her the day after the concert. Will everyone find love, happiness and resolution?

Bill Russell’s appealing book expertly charts everyone’s backstory, sets up topical debates and resolves personal battles with an optimum amount of sentiment that doesn’t become cloying.  The natural flowing dialogue contains much wit.

Luba Mason and Allyson Kaye Daniel in a scene from the new musical “Unexpected Joy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Mr. Russell’s lively lyrics emulate the poetic forthrightness of the cultural figures the show references such as Joni Mitchell. Janet Hood’s rich music has the desired authenticity and some swirling Steely Dan-style riffs.

With a Judy Collins-style mane of blonde hair and wearing jeans and suede, the sleek Luba Mason as Joy certainly looks the part. That mien is reinforced by Ms. Mason’s smoothly conversational vocal inflections and marvelous singing. Mason is totally convincing as the weed-smoking matriarch who follows her heart.

Stealing scenes without throwing them off balance is the imposing Allyson Kaye Daniel as Lou who is hilarious yet deadly serious when things become grave.  Dreadlocks and a black leather jacket aid in Ms. Daniel’s impact as does her powerful singing.

As the resentful daughter Rachel, Courtney Balan’s sparkling presence and vivacious earnestness redeem the character from outright villainy. That’s no small feat considering the amount of fundamentalist Christian rhetoric the character espouses. Ms. Balan beautifully sings a number of songs as well.

In perhaps the most hackneyed role of all, Celeste Rose does wonders as Tamara. Conveying teenage angst with captivating force, Ms. Rose is able to create a full-bodied and believable characterization. Whether performing the young woman’s self-written hard-edged songs or the group numbers, Rose is delightful.

Courtney Balan, Celeste Rose, Luba Mason and Allyson Kaye Daniel in a scene from the new musical “Unexpected Joy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Director Amy Anders Corcoran’s staging gracefully switches the action from Joy’s house to other locations with swiftness. Ms. Corcoran’s work with the cast is superlative as they have great chemistry together and the performance sequences have unity.

James Morgan’s scenic design is of artistic simplicity with two wing chairs and dining room furniture that with Ken Wills’ strategic and hazy lighting design creatively serves as various locales.

Sliding panels takes us to the rehearsal room where the terrific band comprised of conductor Beth Falcone on piano, Brian Hamm on bass, Jack Morer on guitar and Jeff Potter on drums are view for the cast to interact with.  The music and effects are adeptly rendered by Julian Evans’ sound design.

Costume designer Matthew Pachtman perfectly clothes each character with his vibrantly individualistic selections.

Unexpected Joy isn’t groundbreaking but is good-natured entertainment that’s affectively presented.

Unexpected Joy (through May 27, 2018)

The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s

619 Lexington Avenue, at 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.yorktheatre.org

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (514 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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