The York Theatre Company has had a justified success with its entertaining “Desperate Measures,” about to go into a new run. It should have another hit with its latest musical, “Unexpected Joy,” with book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Janet Hood, direction by Amy Anders Corcoran and musical direction by Beth Falcone. Everything clicks, with a believable plot, a cast of four who can really sing as well as act and a four-musician band that gives the show further oomph.
Fortunately much of the story, set on Cape Cod, is told in song, although often funny dialogue is required to resolve issues and convey the message that coming together by people with opposing views is what’s needed these days. The plot gets very personal.
In a nutshell, the story involves the splendid Luba Mason as Joy, a free-spirited singer who is about to stage a concert in memory of her late beloved partner in music and life. Joy is now about to enter a lesbian marriage with the dynamic Allyson Kaye Daniel as Lou, an outspoken, often amusingly acerbic African-American, and the two are deeply in love. Rachel, Joy’s estranged daughter, played by the superb Courtney Balan, on Cape Cod for a rare visit, is married to a right-wing, Bible-thumping televised minister who spews racist comments and thinks gays are sinful, and Rachel is on his wavelength. Enter Rachel’s 18-year-old daughter, Tamara, played with spirit by Celeste Rose, who, unbeknownst to her controlling mother, writes songs and sings, is bursting with efforts at independence and thus is infatuated with and inspired by her unconventional grandmother. What will Rachel do when she finds out about her mother’s impending marriage?
All is charmingly staged, and as the plot unfolds, it is laced with catchy musical numbers defining the characters. When granddaughter Tamara, looking and acting so innocent, bursts into her “Like a Good Girl” song with its sexy moves and lyrics, she is a show-stopper. The number, as performed by Rose, is so good that it could also be a show-stopper on Broadway or anywhere else.
Mason has a knockout voice with a wide range, evident when she sings “I Don’t Want to Get Married” and duets with Daniel as Lou, who can also power a song, in “Unexpected Joy.” Balan as Rachel also has her big moment, when she sings “Raising Them Right.” In a follow-up to her first coup Rose has a different kind of song that shows off her voice and talent—“When Will I Have My Own?”
Bringing Joy and Rachel together is a bit of a stretch, but it is done wittily, with each sticking to one’s own beliefs. And when the cast segues into the final number “Common Ground,” the impact is exciting.
There is considerable cleverness in the lyrics and the music in varied styles is consistently appealing. The musicians include Beth Falcone as pianist and conductor, Brian Hamm on bass, Jack Morer on guitar and Jeff Potter on drums. At the York Theater Company at Saint Peter’s, 54th Street at Lexington Avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed May 4, 2018.