When I heard TPAC was presenting the premiere production of PART OF THE PLAN, a new musical featuring the songbook of Dan Fogelberg, I was excited and curious. You see, the first concert I ever attended was Fogelberg’s early-80s appearance at nearby Murphy Center on the MTSU campus the year before I was to attend college there. Even before that, thanks to my older brother’s record collection, I was very familiar with Fogelberg’s thoughtful catalogue of tunes, so a musical featuring his tunes seems right up my alley.
Then I got to thinking…while I am indeed a lifetime fan of Fogelberg’s music, I must admit I didn’t remember hearing anything truly remarkable enough about his childhood upbringing or adult life to sustain the plot of a musical. Well, I needn’t have worried about that, for you see, PART OF THE PLAN, now onstage at TPAC’s Polk Theatre through Sunday, September 24, isn’t a jukebox musical in the ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE, MOTOWN or JERSEY BOYS sense. It’s not an autobiographical musical about Fogelberg, but rather a new fictional narrative whose story is propelled by the inclusion of some twenty Fogelberg songs injected between the expositional dialogue of the play.
Co-produced by TPAC and directed by Tony-Nominated Lynne Taylor-Corbett (SWING!), PART OF THE PLAN is the musical deamchild of friends Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris, that beautifully weaves not one tale, but two…and both equally touching and heart-wrenching. The first element of the dual narrative takes place in the late 1940s and introduces Kate Morgan Chadwick as Rebecca, a young unwed woman from a prominent family who because of social mores of the day and a strict father, is forced to give up her newborn son.
That leads to the second narrative as the audience is privy to a glimpse of the boy’s less-than-perfect childhood with young actor Wyatt Rogers briefly appearing as preteen Sean (the adopted child’s new name) alongside Katy Blake and Chris Roberts as his adopted parents. If I could change one thing about the staging of the play, when it comes time to show the passage of time and transition between young Rogers to Harley Jay as adult Sean, I’d love to have seen Rogers take off his guitar and hand it to Jay as his character’s older self, but I digress. While Roger’s stage-time is indeed quick, he proves his mettle holding his own alongside Blake, Roberts and Jay for a simply beautiful all-in performance of Fogelberg’s Nature of the Game, an acoustic guitar-centric tune from the singer’s posthumously released final solo project.
After a brief, but important glimpse into Sean’s childhood, comes the journey into adulthood, including a life-changing stint in the Vietnam War, and the culture shock of returning to post-war civilian life. Jay, best known for his 1996 Broadway turn as Mark in the beloved musical RENT, commands the stage, embracing every relatable aspect of a young man lost because of his past, haunted by the ravages of war and uncertain of his future.
While the dual stories focus primarily on Chadwick’s Rebecca and Jay’s Sean, they are surrounded by a fantastic supporting troupe, including JT Hodges and Jayme Lake. Hodges, now a Nashville-native, plays Jake, Rebecca’s one-time love and, unbeknownst to him, the father of her now-adopted son. As Jake, Hodges is fantastic as the quintessential struggling musician. Lake, who I first met when she was touring with my obsession, I LOVE LUCY: LIVE ON STAGE, plays Josie, Sean’s love interest…a fun bit of casting, considering Jay and Lake are married in real life! The playfulness between their two characters, even the disagreements, benefit from their off-stage relationship.
The entire company seems perfectly cast. Daniel David Stewart’s Hirsch figures prominently within the story’s narrative and shines in the role. Darian Peer and Euriamis Losada, as two of Sean’s army buddies, perfectly portray the brotherhood of war. While often relegated to background and crowd scenes, even PART OF THE PLAN’s ensemble members, Curt Bonnem, Megan Murphy Chambers, Cameron Gilliam and Kristin Towers-Rowles will keep you entertained with their pitch-perfect harmonies and finely executed choreography. Side Note: If you’re not following Chambers on social media, you should. Since being cast in PART OF THE PLAN’s ensemble, she’s taken to her Instagram to introduce all the various ensemble characters she plays in the show, going so far as to create what could be considered dating profiles of her characters’ likes, dislikes and hobbies. Trust me. It’s worth a look.
The show’s reliability is where PART OF THE PLAN holds its strength. While not everyone can relate to being adopted, or fighting in war, everyone can relate to the struggle of fitting in, of finding their own way in a world that’s constantly throwing new and unexpected curves into the mix.
Featuring a cast of 18 from all three coasts (New York, LA and of course, right here in Music City), as directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, the two-and-a-half-hour runtime speeds by with hardly any lag-time. No surprise, considering Taylor-Corbett is also the show’s choreographer. In addition to directing the aforementioned SWING!, she also choreographed it, as well as Broadway runs of JACKIE, TITANIC, and my personal favorite of her projects, CHESS.
Astute Fogelberg fans will no doubt catch an early piece of dialogue referring to Sean’s father as ‘the Leader of the Band’, an obvious nod to one of my—and dare I say, everyone’s— favorite Fogelberg tunes that comes near the end of Act 1. There’s also clever mention by guitar-tottin’ Jake of ‘Gordon Lightfoot’—Fogelberg frequently cited Lightfoot as one of his musical influencers. With the show’s opening tune, Nether Lands, PART OF THE PLAN musical director Stephen Kummer’s sets the bar high for beautifully reimagined Fogelberg tunes. Other Fogelberg classics like Make Love Stay, The River, A Voice for Peace, Same Old Lang Syne, Hard to Say, and of course the titular tune, Part of the Plan, come wrapped in equally warm and enchanting vocal s thanks to the cast’s immense talent and Kummer’s gift of reinterpretation.
Maybe the best example of Kummer’s knack for making a song fit the narrative comes in the form of Longer, Fogelberg’s 1979 mega-hit tune that garnered his first #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Within the context of PART OF THE PLAN, Longer is presented as a dual duet, that is to say, at a crucial point in the concurrent plot lines, the lyrics are given shared meaning when performed by both central couples, Rebecca & Jake and Sean and Josie.
On the flip side, there’s also the inclusion of lesser-known tunes like Magic Every Moment (from Fogelberg’s 1993 River of Souls lp). Proof positive PART OF THE PLAN’s creative team truly did their research finding just the right Fogelberg tunes to seamlessly propel their story.
Yes, the plot and dialogue can seem a bit contrived and formulaic, but with a cast filled with true triple-threat actors/singers/dancers, all backed by Fogelberg’s familiar soundtrack, PART OF THE PLAN should easily have an Opening Night on Broadway in the near future as part of its plan.
PART OF THE PLAN continues its World Premiere debut staging at TPAC’s Polk Theatre with performances through 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.
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