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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 1 year ago

Asolo Repertory Theatre announces world premiere musical, 'Knoxville'

The musical will be based on James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel 'A Death in the Family' and will debut spring 2020.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

Asolo Repertory Theatre announced Feb. 6 that it will produce a world-premiere musical next season with the potential of making headlines far beyond Sarasota.

“This is thrilling,” says Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards. “And it’s being brought to life by some of the most renowned artists in musical theater.”

“Knoxville” is a musical inspired by James Agee's autobiographical novel “A Death in the Family” and the play “All The Way Home” by Tad Mosel. It will debut in spring 2020. The story follows main character Rufus and the unexpected turn of events that shakes his family to their core, causing Rufus and his mother to undergo a journey of acceptance.

The American coming-of-age story will feature lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the duo behind current broadway hit “Anastasia.” Frank Galati will round out the creative team as adapter and director, thus reuniting the Tony Award-winning trio behind the original Broadway production of “Ragtime.”

The creative team convened on the Mertz Theatre stage Feb. 6 for a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of “Knoxville” for media and Asolo Rep donors.

“Most musicals begin with a great idea,” Ahrens says. “This was very different. Frank delivered to us a fully realized play in two acts.”

Ahrens went on to explain how the language of Agee’s novel gave her the inspiration she needed to write the lyrics for “Knoxville,” forming a bridge between the show’s spoken words and music.

Flaherty says the story, and thus its music, is largely about what it was like to be an American family in 1915 but also more generally what it means to be a father or son (or wife, as Ahrens added). The group recently did a week of readings in New York City and Flaherty says his main takeaway was that this music “taps into the American soul.”

“This musical is about hope, questioning your faith and the ability of people with different views to still love each other,” Ahrens says.

Guests at the event were the first to hear a song from the musical, "Outside Your Window," which was performed by Claybourne Elder. Elder is set to perform in the upcoming workshop for the musical, which Asolo Rep will host in June 2019.

“Knoxville” is made possible by a generous grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation, and the the cast and performance dates are yet to be determined.

I'm the Managing Editor of Arts & Entertainment here, which means I write, edit and share stories about our multifaceted A&E scene in Sarasota. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism and a French minor. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 356

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