What happens when three generations of women reunite for a week? Family tensions and dramatics come to a boiling point when deep secrets are revealed. Can these strong women mend their broken fences? This is the premise of York theater’s production of Unexpected Joy by Bill Russell (Book and Lyrics) and Janet Hood (music).
Enter Joy, a woman in her fifties, who is a famous folktale singer. She is preparing for a benefit concert in memory of her late husband Jump, This brings her daughter and granddaughter to town. Her daughter and granddaughter come from Oklahoma to visit her. While Joy is somewhat of a hippie, her daughter Rachel is the complete opposite. Rachel and her husband are ultra conservative born again christians. Yet, their daughter, Tamara doesn’t share their beliefs and is more like her grandma (who she affectionately refers to as Glamma). So it is easy to see where the tension would derive from between these three. But when Joy finally reveals her big secret, it pushes them all to the brink of destruction. Yet what may save them is their love for music. All of them love to sing, but can music be their ‘common ground’?
Joy, is played by Luba Mason and has a dynamic voice. We follow her inner conflict of wanting to stay true to herself, while gaining her daughter’s approval seamlessly. We are in her corner from the start to the end of the show and root for her with all our heart. Courtney Balan plays Rachel well. We absolutely hate her character and what she stands for, which wouldn’t be possible if Balan wasn’t so strong in her performance. Still, we identify with her overwhelming desire to connect with her daughter and find the balance between her convictions and having a healthy relationship with her daughter. When Balan sings “Raising them Right”, there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Celeste Rose plays Tamara, a newly made young woman finding her footing in the world and struggling to define herself. She does this well, which is the catalyst for much of the drama in the show. Without her fiery performance, everything would fall flat. Skillfully, she doesn’t let that happen. Rounding out the cast is the knockout vocalist Allyson Kane Daniel, whose relationship to the plot I won’t divulge for fear of giving away too much of the story, She is a tour-de-force showcasing strength and vulnerability at the same time. Bravo!
Yes, in the basement of a church there is an outstanding new musical happening called Unexpected Joy. With its timely and timeless message, you should go see this show. It strikes quite the unexpected chord!
Unexpected Joy plays now through May 20, 2018 at the York Theatre 619 Lexington Ave. http://www.yorktheatre.org