|The fabulous Courtney Balan, Celeste Rose, |
Luba Mason, and Allyson Kaye Daniel
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Book writer-lyricist Bill Russell (Sideshow) and composer Janet Hood (Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens) utilize folk-rock, pop, and blues in both diegetic songs (where the character knows she is singing, as during a concert) and nondiegetic songs (where the character, unaware she is singing, musically shares her thoughts and emotions with the audience). The combination works quite well, particularly since the diegetic songs are often autobiographical, and all the songs are good to wonderful.
Unexpected Joy pulses with energy, love, humor, and compassion. It reminds me a bit of The Band's Visit in that it lacks chorus, dances, and big numbers yet is completely full and satisfying.
Russell and Hood are extremely well-served by director Amy Anders Corcoran, who directs with clarity and rhythm, and the amazing cast of Courtney Balan, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Luba Mason, and Celeste Rose. All four women have beautiful voices, and their different personalities and styles mesh perfectly, even when the songs are about not getting along.
Mason's Joy clearly has spent her life as a star, mostly getting her own way, and Mason perfectly balances entitlement and wanting to please her loved ones. She kicks ass in her big numbers and is gently emotional in her small ones. Balan has perhaps the toughest role as Rachel, the preacher's wife, since the audience is likely to find her the least sympathetic character. But Balan shows that Rachel's need for structure is rooted in a childhood with few boundaries and periodic neglect. (Joy's answer to any challenges about her life or child-rearing tends to starts with "We were musicians!" as though that frees her of any responsibility.) Rose, as the young and rebellious Tamara, nicely depicts her growing pains and holds her own when singing with the grown-ups. And Daniel is perfect as Lou, Joy's "good friend," from her voice to her attitude to her stance.
While the band for Unexpected Joy is small, its sound is big. Beth Falcone,* on the piano, is the conductor/musical director; Brian Hamm plays bass, Jack Morer plays guitar, and Jeff Potter is on the drums. They truly rock. And the design elements nicely support and enhance the show; the costumes in particular help define the people who wear them. The creative team includes James Morgan (set), Matthew Pachtman (costumes), Ken Wills (lights), Julian Evans (sound), Deb Gaouette (props), and AnnMarie Milazzo (vocal arrangements).
Unexpected Joy deserves a nice long run; I hope it joins Desperate Measures at New World Stages. The show provides the always welcome reminder that discovering a wonderful new musical is one of the great joys of theatre.
(press tickets; fifth row)
*Note: this name was misspelled; apologies to Ms. Falcone.