Ahrens & Flaherty's KNOXVILLE World Premiere to Feature Jason Danieley, Hannah Elless, and More

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Ahrens & Flaherty's KNOXVILLE World Premiere to Feature Jason Danieley, Hannah Elless, and More

Asolo Repertory Theatre will present the world premiere of KNOXVILLE, a new musical by Frank Galati, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, opening April 10 (with previews starting April 3). The musical reunites the Tony Award®-winning creative team behind Broadway's Ragtime (1998). Frank Galati, an Asolo Rep associate artist, also directs the production, which will run through April 25. The world premiere of KNOXVILLE is made possible by a generous grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation.

Based on James Agee's autobiographical Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family, the story begins as James Agee struggles to write his greatest novel - about the event that touched his young life, and the effect it had on his mother, his town and his own future. A powerful illumination of the forces that shape who we are, KNOXVILLE is a universal coming-of-age story about family, faith and love-and about the boy who will grow up to write it. With a sweeping musical score and an extraordinary creative team and cast, this world premiere is a must-see event.

"Agee 'writes' the story as the audience experiences it," says Galati. "Our musical begins in 1955 in the Author's workshop. He thinks, 'Maybe by telling my story, I can find out who I am.'"

Galati adapted the book, with music by Flaherty and lyrics by Ahrens. Asolo Rep commissioned the project starting in 2018 and hosted a developmental workshop in June 2019, in addition to producing the world premiere. The cast features Broadway veterans Hannah Elless, Ellen Harvey, Ben Michael, and Jason Danieley.

"The story throws us back to the turn of the century and World War I, but it's sown in the field of 1950s anxiety," says Galati, who first encountered the book in college in the1960s, and revisited it again four years ago. "When you read Agee's work, you retrieve the series of crises of the heart and faith that are universal. It revives in your mind what it felt like to be six years old."

Flaherty and Ahrens were also inspired by Agee's prose. Flaherty tapped into the story's history and setting. "I tried to create a very American sound that had elements of folk and country-popular parlor music of the period that would have been presented in a casual, intimate way," says Flaherty. "Actors often play instruments throughout the evening, supporting one another both musically and emotionally." Ahrens's lyrics reflect and amplify the poetry and mystery of Agee's prose.

"KNOXVILLE is a tremendous achievement and a monument of theatrical artistry," says Asolo Rep Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards. "I'm so proud of our contributions to its development, and I'm thrilled that we get to present it here first."

KNOXVILLE 's first draft received a staged reading in New York City in December 2018. Broadway choreographer Josh Rhodes, whose previous Asolo Rep credits include the 2019 production of The Sound of Music, joined the project during its 2019 workshop in Sarasota. The creative team also includes Robert Perdziola as the scenic and costume designer.

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