This weekend marks the final debut performances of PART OF THE PLAN, a new musical that tells the story of a young woman who is forced to give up her newborn son, and the life that son lives. The all-new narrative was conceived and written by Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris. What brings it into the musical realm is the fact that the story is seamlessly propelled by featuring nearly two dozen tunes from legendary singer/songwriter, Dan Fogelberg’s extensive beloved catalogue. Given the fact that Harris and Atkinson worked so closely together in creating the narrative, I thought it would be fun to chat with both of them for the latest installment of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q. After learning a bit more about these two, it seems obvious that PART OF THE PLAN was indeed a true collaborative effort. With that in mind, I decided it might be fun to pose the same ten questions to both to see just how in sync they truly are where PART OF THE PLAN is concerned.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q with Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Alright, I just have to begin by admitting…Dan Fogelberg at MTSU’s Murphy Center back in 1981 was my first concert as a kid. What’s your earliest Fogelberg memory?
KATE ATKINSON: I went across the street to visit by babysitter, whose boyfriend was visiting from college. He had his guitar and played and sang Old Tennessee, and I went out and bought my first Dan Fogelberg cassette tape.
KAREN HARRIS: This was my generation. I worked in variety tv and the music business before I started writing. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Kenny Loggins, Jennifer Warnes, The Eagles, Springsteen, these were my soundtrack artists…and Dan Fogelberg was part of that family of brilliant singer-songwriters.
JP: How did PART OF THE PLAN become part of your plan?
KATE ATKINSON: I was listening to Dan Fogelberg’s greatest hits on a long road trip with my beau, and on about the 10th time listening to the beautiful orchestral opening of Nether Lands, I said aloud “this is overture of a Broadway musical” and the rest is history.
KAREN HARRIS: I had just left a very long gig writing a daytime serial and decided I was ready to think outside the TV box in which I’d made my living. I wanted to write a stage musical. Kate asked if I knew who Dan Fogelberg was, and of course I did. It was an opportunity I had to grab onto.
JP: Was there ever thought of doing a musical about Fogelberg’s life a la ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE, MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, et al?
KATE ATKINSON: Never. I wanted to tell a story about an adopted boy, and through immersing ourselves in Dan’s entire catalogue, Karen and I discovered that Dan has written a song for practically every circumstance of life. So, we knew Dan’s music would lend itself perfectly to an original story.
KAREN HARRIS: I didn’t want to write about Dan’s life (though it’s certainly worthy). I believed the value in Dan’s music is how it is so evocative, poetic. A wonderful foundation for a heartfelt original story. Kate and I were in complete agreement.
JP: In PART OF THE PLAN, the action centers around a child put up for adoption. Is there a particular significance to incorporating adoption as a plot point?
KATE ATKINSON: It was the story that immersed, but we also felt that adoption was much more prevalent in today’s world, with parents having children later, or not being able to have them, same-sex couples, etc… It was a subject we wanted to explore.
KAREN HARRIS: Kate had the idea of adoption. I have a number of people close to me who are adopted or have adopted, and there is so much about that situation that evokes conflict and emotion. It seemed a great opportunity.
JP: There’s some 20 Fogelberg tunes featured throughout PART OF THE PLAN. During his two decades as a recording artist, he released fourteen solo studio albums and three live albums. How did you narrow the options down to just 20?
KATE ATKINSON: The songs picked us. We’d write a plot point, say a scene at Fort Dix, and discover Dan had written a song about war… A Voice For Peace. We headed to Mexico, and Dan’s River of Souls was there for us. Oddly, somehow almost every album found us. High Country Snows got left out and I couldn’t find a way to get Old Tennessee (from Fogelberg’s 1975 lp Captured Angel) in there.
KAREN HARRIS: For the first few weeks, we immersed ourselves in Dan’s music. Each of us separately listened and found so much of the music was inspiring ideas. We got back together to begin breaking the story and compared the songs we’d each related to. We had a number of the same choices. On occasion, the music would direct us toward the next step in the story.
JP: During the inception of the musical, you met with Fogelberg’s widow, Jean Fogelberg, as well as famed producer and longtime Fogelberg friend, Norbert Putnam. Did you continue to consult them throughout the creative process?
KATE ATKINSON:We had Jean read the second draft of our book. She gave us a couple of notes, and we happily took them! They were great ideas. She suggested that the music box should be a gift to Rebecca from Jake, as well as a certain reunion that we incorporated. But we mostly consulted her on our artwork. Jean designed our original program art, and the man with the guitar is still with us.
KAREN HARRIS: Jean had signed off on the over-arching story line. When we had a second or third draft we felt comfortable showing her, she was very helpful. One of her suggestions we included was that during the Don’t Lose Heart/Missing You medley, perhaps it should be the soldiers writing home to their sweethearts. We love the way that’s evolved.
JP: Is there a lesser known song that’s included in the musical that you think audiences will perhaps be happy to discover?
KATE ATKINSON: I love that we included Nature of the Game, off Love In Time, which Jean released posthumously. This is one of the songs we do Fogelberg-style – where Chris Roberts, who plays Kevin, strums guitar and sings his bluesy rendition.
KAREN HARRIS: Nature of the Game. Because it was released after Dan passed away, people aren’t as familiar with it. But it’s such an important song in the storytelling, and a chance to use the blues.
JP: What’s it like having Tony-nominated Lynne Taylor-Corbett as both your director and choreographer?
Kate: Simply outstanding. Lynne’s a force to be reckoned with and constantly challenges us as writers to improve upon the storytelling.
KAREN HARRIS: Wonderful. We’ve been watching Lynne and it is so wonderful to see the artistic process this close up. She’s so smart and knows what she wants, but is also wide open to our input.
JP: In addition to Taylor-Corbett, PART OF THE PLAN also features musical arrangement by Grammy-winners Victor Vanacore and Laurence Juber. Is there a particular arrangement that you find yourself mesmerized by each time the cast performs it?
Kate: Victor’s arrangement of Believe in Me as a lullaby gets me every time. And the reprise, with BOTH mothers singing is hauntingly beautiful. LJ’s guitar arrangement on Phoenix explodes off the stage. But I think my favorite moment, that both arrangers worked on is the arrangement of The River, which begins with Dan himself singing and morphs into a psychedelic version, a la Vietnam era, sung by Harley Jay, who plays Sean. It’s one of my favorite moments in the show.
KAREN HARRIS: My two favorites deal with polar opposites. I love the simplicity of Hard to Say. Harley Jay makes me cry every time, with just his voice and a beautiful guitar. My other goose bump moment is Voice For Peace. Our arrangers took this relatively straightforward song and turned it into an anthem, with the entire company on stage, expressing their feelings about a country at war as young men are sent off to Vietnam.
JP: Following this month’s TPAC debut run, what’s next for PART OF THE PLAN?
KATE ATKINSON: Karen and I get emails every day from fans asking “when are you coming to Boston?” “Are you coming to Kansas?” “We’d love to see this show in Minneapolis!”
We have several Broadway lead producers coming to see our developmental production at TPAC, and a partnership with one of them will help to determine the next phase for Part of the Plan, whether it be another regional production, a tour, or something else. But one thing is for sure, people need to see PART OF THE PLAN beyond Nashville.
KAREN HARRIS: We are ready and excited for whatever path opens up to us. We do believe this journey is part of our plan.
PART OF THE PLAN concludes its World Premiere debut staging at TPAC’s Polk Theatre with final matinee and evening performances Saturday, September 23 and Sunday, September 24. Click Here to purchase tickets or for more information. Keep up with PART OF THE PLAN on social media by liking the official page on Facebook and following them on Instagram and Twitter. For the latest from TPAC, check out their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you’ve enjoyed this special edition of mar recurring interview segment, Rapid Fire 20 Q, Click Here to check out previous conversations and be sure to subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.