Apr 19, 2022 - News

Sarasota theater hosts world premiere of "Knoxville"

the cast of "knoxville" onstage

The cast of "Knoxville" at Asolo Repertory Theatre. Photo: Cliff Roles

Two years after its debut was halted by the pandemic, a musical is making its world premiere in Sarasota.

Flashback: The Tony Award-winning team behind Broadway's "Ragtime" reunited to bring "Knoxville" to Asolo Repertory Theatre.

  • Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens joined director Frank Galati, who also wrote the book for the musical, based on James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel "A Death in the Family."
  • But just before their production was going into tech rehearsals in 2020, the pandemic hit.

Why it matters: The "Knoxville" team took something they were forced to set aside and used the time to fine tune the production. The show's success could bring Sarasota's art scene into the Broadway ranks.

  • "We went back to square one and expanded the story, the population of the town and the musical's score and refined the present-day Agee character and his springboard into the past … ," Galati told the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "It's a dream come true, really. And I didn't even know the scope of the dream at the time."

Details: Most of the musical takes place in 1915 in Tennessee, when the father of a 6-year-old based on Agee is killed in a car crash. As an adult, the child then struggles with how his father's death affected his family, his town and his future.

  • The show incorporates American folk songs from the post-World War I period, with actors playing string instruments like piano and guitars.

What they're saying: Galati told the Tampa Bay Times that the novel "feels like it wants to live in a lyrical world."

  • "I'm the person who takes a scene that has been spoken, beautiful spoken language and it gets to a very emotional point, and I go, 'Oh, they want to sing,'" Ahrens told the Times.

If you go: "Knoxville" is running preview shows through Friday. It premieres April 23 and runs through May 11. Tickets start at $33.


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