Asolo Rep Announces the World Premiere of "Knoxville" in Spring 2020

Todays News


Ushered into the semi-darkness of the Mertz Theater yesterday morning, friends and patrons of the Asolo Repertory Theatre knew they were in for big news, but perhaps not quite as big as they got, as Michael Donald Edwards revealed the world premiere of a new musical set for the Asolo stage—and one created by titans of the craft.

Entitled Knoxville, and adapted from James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family, the production reunites the acclaimed and Tony Award-winning creative team behind Broadway’s Ragtime in director Frank Galati—an Asolo regular and Tony Award-winner in his own right, who also penned the adaptation—and the celebrated musical pairing of Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), also Olivier Award-winners for Once Upon This Island and currently represented on Broadway with Anastasia. A “rare and thrilling” opportunity, says Edwards, “This is what we love to do.”

Set in Knoxville, TN, in the year 1915, the autobiographical story revolves around young Rufus Follett, who finds his idyllic family life rocked by tragedy, his mind wracked with questions of faith, death and doubt. “Like James Joyce, James Agee created a portrait of the artist as a young man in his novel,” says Galati. “But in this story, the artist is an American and his story goes to the core of the American soul, where faith abides as well as doubt.” Joined onstage by Ahrens and Flaherty, the trio discussed finding common inspiration in Agee’s words and the process of building a musical around Galati’s script. At the end, the audience was treated to a special preview of what Knoxville has in store, with a performance of the song “Outside of Your Window,” sang by Claybourne Elder and accompanied by Flaherty on piano.

Fielding questions from the audience, the name Knoxville came to the fore. Why not stick with a Pulitzer Prize-winning title? It’s about creating  “sense of place,” says Galati, with Flaherty agreeing, in part. The name gives prospective audiences a “taste” of the musical flavor to come, he says, as he composed his “casual” score around the sounds and soul of the setting. But for Ahrens, it conveys, first and foremost, a “sense of community.” Whatever the reason, Edwards seemed to joke, Knoxville might be an easier musical to sell than A Death in the Family.

With a 12-person cast of actor/musicians, Knoxville will premiere at Asolo Repertory Theatre in the spring of 2020, following a workshop session this June.

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