At TPAC’s Polk Theater, a world premiere event is happening. There is a new work in progress that has its sights set for a trip to Broadway, and they just may get what they want. Part of the Plan is a new work by creators Kate Atkinson and Karen Harris and is directed by Tony award winner Lynne Taylor-Corbett. The twist? It features the music of Dan Fogelberg with a new, original story line.
The best way to explain this show is really to explain the creators. Karen Harris is veteran writer of the TV soap opera General Hospital. Kate Atkinson is a documentary filmmaker and brilliant producer. The two of them put together have found a soap opera that’s been turned into a play. That was expected going in, the question was whether or not it would be good. That question was answered rather quickly when the immensely talented JT Hodges and Kate Morgan Chadwick came to do the opening number, "The Power of Gold." The audience knew we were in for a big treat.
The show begins, as good shows do, as a love story. In the late 1940’s, Rebecca (Kate Morgan Chadwick), the daughter of a wealthy Northeastern family falls in love with a waiter/singer/songwriter named Jake (JT Hodges). They have a whirlwind romance and Rebecca winds up pregnant. Under family pressure, she gives that child up for adoption, never telling Jake anything. That child, Sean (Harley Jay), grows up in the care of a washed-up hillbilly singer father and a mother who has had enough of her husband’s shenanigans. It follows the life of each of these characters and how, in the end, everything is truly just all a part of the plan.
The storyline is definitely that of a primetime soap opera. Each character is well defined and has their own story, even if it is only surface level. It’s a drama that has all sorts of twists and turns, leaving you rooting for most of the main characters. The music that binds it all together is just the cherry on top. If you are not familiar with the music of Dan Fogelberg, it is not imperative to hear it first. I knew only a couple of the songs very well, but the rest of them were well arranged and did progress the story. It felt like Kate and Karen were sitting around one day, one of them had an idea to write a musical about the Vietnam War and one wanted to write a musical with Dan Fogelberg’s music. The story was definitely well thought out, and the particulars were wrapped into the music seamlessly. The one criticism of the story I will give is that of the early part of the Sean/Josie romance. There is a scene in their relationship where the father and the son story may overtake Sean and Josie’s early story. I just needed them to be a little more in love. If there was one way to improve the storyline, that would be a place I would look at and might re-tool. Otherwise, the story was spectacular. Everything else made sense and worked well.
The cast is dripping in talent. I was delighted by the powerful performance of Kate Morgan Chadwick. Her portrayal of Rebecca is sweet, but incredibly strong. We watch her go from young debutante to an anti-Vietnam War activist and artist. She gives the character a feeling of warmth and authenticity. Harley Jay is a rising star of Broadway. He’s performed in Grease! Live and played Mark in Rent for the 2007 world tour. He’s paying his dues, but this is one that could be a really big deal for film or theatre within the next couple of years. His performance in this show could be a way for him to get there. His masterful work with his character Sean is something that can’t be missed.
I was very reluctant on this one in the beginning. I was really concerned with how all of any of this would make sense and come together in the end. I should have had a little faith, because frankly, Part of the Plan could very well be in previews for a very big hit. The music is smart, the writing is even smarter, and the drama is just enough to be juicy. It’s not overdone, it’s not campy, and it’s not dark. It’s a show that will leave you in happy tears. Shouts of joy will be acceptable as you give a standing ovation to the amazing cast.
Kathleen O’Brien, the President and CEO of TPAC, must be bragged on for just a moment here. With bringing in a new work world premiere of this caliber, she’s changing the narrative at TPAC. Instead of being just another stop on a national tour, TPAC is now invested in theatre and makes it better nationally. Her leadership at TPAC is breathing life into a Nashville theatre community that is incredibly talented but gets very little credit. Use of local actors and musicians in an actual preview of something that could very likely be on Broadway within the next year or two? O’Brien and her team are putting Nashville on the map with the theatre community worldwide. With last year’s Evita and this year’s Part of the Plan, she’s obviously trying to give this city a name in theatre. We may never be Broadway or West End, but we could be on the precipice of making musicals a bigger part of music city. Kudos to an amazing team.