Unexpected Joy
Credit: Carol Rosegg.

The York Theatre Company continues its 2017-2018 season with the New York premier of a new musical Unexpected Joy, with book and lyrics by Tony-nominated Bill Russell (Side Show) and music by Janet Hood (Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens).

Unexpected Joy is the story of three generations of female singers who convene for a memorial concert in honor of the recently deceased family patriarch, “Jump” of the popular pop duo “Jump & Joy”. Hippie “Glam-ma” Joy (Luba Mason) welcomes her bible-thumping daughter Rachel (Courtney Balan) and rebellious granddaughter Tamara (Celeste Rose) to her home in Cape Cod; conflict ensues as old wounds, generational gaps and belief systems clash. Adding tinder to the fire is Joy’s surprise girlfriend and fiance, Lou (Allyson Kay Daniel), a fierce and politically minded lesbian and woman of color.

Let me say right off the bat that all four of these women are absolutely terrific singers. Collectively, they demonstrate a diversity of style, range, and expression, showing truly great vocal talent and commitment to the music. I would go anywhere just to listen to them sing from the phone book.

Unfortunately, singing from the phone book might have been easier for these actors. For all the script’s good intentions of championing women and gay rights, the dialog was often trite and stereotypical. The songs themselves were better, although their connection to the story seemed artificial and contrived at times. One imagines the songs were written independently of the script and weakly woven into the material after the fact.

Overall, the singing talent of the performers elevated the music to a modestly enjoyable status, notwithstanding some occasionally uninspired lyrics. Acting wise, all the women did their best but in the absence of more compelling material the performances just didn’t ring true, especially that of Mason, whose characterization of Joy seemed to be posturing in life equally as much as on stage. Regrettably, great singing alone was not enough to make this production a truly organic experience.

Unexpected Joy is runs through May 27th in the cozy lower level theater at Saint Peter’s Church (54th Street and Lexington Avenue). For tickets/more information, visit here.