Tammy, Rachel, and Joy sing before any tension arises

There are two ways to see great theater without spending the mortgage as one would have to do for a production such as Hamilton. Go out of town to a regional theater such as Paper Mill in New Jersey, or…stay at home and check out the off-Broadway venues.

The York Theater Company’s production of Unexpected Joy is one of those shows that kept the audience tapping its toes throughout the show. And the second best part is that tickets range under $75.

Joy (Luba Mason), a somewhat less than middle-aged woman is hosting her daughter and granddaughter for a memorial to her late partner. Daughter, Rachel (Courtney Balan), has come to New York from the hinterlands of Oklahoma for the memorial and what should have been a joyous reunion.  But what’s a show, any show, without the spider in the woodpile? Rachel’s husband is a televangelist who really doesn’t like Joy because she and Rachel’s father, Jump, were never married. On his show he rails against sin of all sorts, homosexuality and anything that Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggert would have condemned…for everyone but themselves.

Unexpected Joy takes an Unexpected Turn…

All is joy when Joy announces that she is getting remarried. What she fails to mention to Rachel is that she is marrying…wait…wait…a woman. But not just any woman.  She is going to marry a black woman.  Oh the shock of it all.  Rachel, when she finds out, demands that her daughter, Joy’s granddaughter, Tamara (Celeste Rose), immediately head back to Oklahoma. Tamara confounds Rachel when she refuses.


The three generations discussing the upcoming jump memorial

Suddenly on the scene is Lou (Allyson Kaye Daniel), the potential female fiancé. Lou is as “butch” as they come, but behind her façade is a person with the same feelings as anyone else. She hurts, she bleeds, and she loves.  None of this impresses Rachel.  All she can see is the sin of two women loving each other and planning on becoming a family.

Tamara-Tammy-sides with grandma and insists that she will be at the memorial in a cabaret where Joy and Jump, under the professional name of Jump and Joy, performed before his untimely death.

The audience could almost forget the story line and the conflict on stage as they listened to the strong voice of the entire cast. Each one better than the other and 19-year-old Rose holds her own with the rest.  The one act show moves amongst a handful of scenes with very imaginative stage settings; sometimes as simple as the movement of panels across the stage.

This isn’t heavy drama and you know that things will work out…well almost.  SPOILER ALERT…Rachel and Tammy not only remain for the memorial and participate, but Rachel and Joy reconcile.  That’s about where it stops.  When Lou makes an overture to Rachel it was almost “Talk to the hand.”  Lou has ruffled feathers when Joy seems to waver, but when Joy gets down on a knee and proposes, all is well is Theater Land.

Notes on the Show

The show has had such a positive response during previews that the run has been extended to May 27. Tickets range in price from $67.50 to $72.50, about the price of a chocolate bar at Hamilton.  Senior Rush Tix are available day-of-performance one hour prior to curtain for $20 cash only. 

Tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820 or online at www.yorktheater.org. Tix are also available at the box office at the York Theater at St. Peter’s (Citicorp Building) at Lexington and 54th Street. Use the 54th Street entrance.

Unexpected Joy is produced by Tony Award Winner Jim Kierstead (Kinky Boots) and was more than six years in the making.

Kierstead first heard a reading of the play at that time and saw its potential. He discussed it with theater professionals and then moved it to the famed Wellfleet Playhouse on Cape Cod, the location of Unexpected Joy.

It played there two years ago while Kierstead sought out the right venue in New York. The York Theater is intimate and comfortable with the audience close enough to the stage and the players to truly get a feel for the show.

Following its run in New York Kierstead has announced that it will move on to London for a run.


Check out our TravelingDad’s Tips on Hamilton the Musical