An excited Roy Cockrum making remarks during a reception prior to the opening of “Knoxville” at Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre on Saturday night.
The Roy Cockrum Foundation put Knoxville on the map again this past weekend by underwriting a buzz-generating production of a new play called, “Knoxville,” which had its world premiere on Saturday in Sarasota, Florida.
The Knoxville man who claimed $153 million in 2014 when he cashed in a lottery ticket he had purchased at a Kroger, Cockrum and some friends were in the audience for the premiere.
“I’ve never been more proud to have my name associated with a new play,” Cockrum said after the show.
Reviewers from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Sarasota Magazine agreed. Carrie Seidman, writing for the newspaper, called the play “an eloquently emotional reflection about what matters most in our lives – the bonds of faith, family and love that sustain us even in the face of our certain but unpredictable deaths.”
Kay Kipling says in Sarasota Magazine, “As old-style promo show posters might have said, Knoxville will make you cry. It will make you laugh. It will make you care. And it deserves to have a long life in future productions.”
The play, written and directed by Tony Award winner Frank Galati, is based on the novel “A Death in the Family” by Knoxville author James Agee. It is a musical composed by Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who also collaborated on the Broadway smash, “Ragtime.”
There was much talk after the curtain fell about whether the production would move to Broadway. Everyone I spoke with — from women in the ladies’ room after the no-intermission performance to the champagne-drinkers at the festive post-play reception — agreed that it should. Cockrum said plans already are in the works for a cast recording of the 19 excellent songs in the show.
Cockrum, a former drama student who worked as an actor in New York for a while, created his foundation with his lottery winnings for the purpose of funding American non-profit theater projects that otherwise would not be possible.
He was inspired by seeing an opulent stage production in London many years ago. “I thought to myself that no non-profit American theater could have afforded that production,” Cockrum told the opening night crowd at the reception prior to the show on Saturday. “I said that if I ever got two nickels to rub together, I would help American theaters. And then I won the lottery!”
Director Galati, 78, was a former teacher of Cockrum at Northwestern University.
Roy Cockrum and his sister, Carolyn, at the reception prior to the show.
Some other Knoxvillians who were looking forward to the event. From left, Alan Carmichael, John Winemiller and R.J. Hinde.
Director Frank Galati taught Cockrum during Galati’s class at Northwestern University called, “Interpretation of Prose.” “James Agee’s prose was like music,” Galati said Saturday, adding that the most powerful words in the English language are, “Once upon a time.”
Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens.
Roy Cockrum with Benita Hofstetter Koman, the retired former executive director of the Roy Cockrum Foundation.
Roy Cockrum, front, with, from left, Carol Ann Lee, the executive director of the Roy Cockrum Foundation; Ren Gong; Peter Xiques (back); Benita Hofstetter Koman; Frazier Marsh, a member of the Roy Cockrum Foundation board; Stephen Joseph (seated); and Roy Bavaro.
Cockrum embraces Michael Donald Edwards, the producing artistic director of the Asolo Rep.
I loved the set, which turned out to be very versatile.
We were not allowed to take photos during the performance, but I got a few during curtain call. Here are, from left, Joel Waggoner, who played Ralph, the author’s brother; Jason Danieley, who played the author, James Agee; and Abigail Stephenson, who portrayed Victoria.
The whole cast at curtain call.
After the show, during another reception, Cockrum, left, chatted with the composer, Stephen Flaherty.
Cake and champagne were on the menu!
Obviously, the play was the point of the trip to Sarasota. But there was other fun to be had, as well!
Cockrum hosted a dinner Friday night at Ophelia’s on the Bay, a fantastic seafood eatery located on Siesta Key. While he went in to check on arrangements, I convinced the others to pose for a photo. From left, Ken Elliott, Ren Gong, R.J. Hinde, John Winemiller, Peter Xiques, Lisa Xiques, Alan Carmichael, Frazier Marsh and Carol Ann Lee.
Roy and Carolyn.
The rest of the gang! (Thanks to our server for taking the photo.) From left, going around the table: Frazier, Ren, Ken, Roy, Carolyn, Thomas Locke, Trey Jacobs, R.J., John, Alan, me, Carol Ann, Lisa and Peter.
Everyone raved about the food, but I thought mine was the best! It was the shrimp scampi top left in this photo. Clockwise from there, Alan’s sea bass, Lisa’s scallops and Carol Ann’s lamb.
Desserts: creme brulee, top; key lime pie, bottom left; and pot o’ creme.
In addition to the beautiful Asolo Repertory Theatre (which, by the way, features an interior that was meticulously disassembled and re-installed in 1949 from a theater in Asolo, Italy), there’s another must-see attraction in Sarasota. The Ringling. The Ringling is a combination of an art museum, historic home, botanical garden and 44,000-piece miniature representation of the history of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the early 20th century.
The miniature circus held special interest for us because it was the life’s passion of Howard Tibbals, a native of Oneida, Tennessee, who brought the collection to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville for its debut. The display, built on a scale of 3/4-inch to 1-foot, takes up 3,700 square feet of space.
Alan enters the “Big Top.”
Here it is in miniature!
Setting up the food tent was the first order of business when the circus changed locations.
Another dining tent.
Knoxville figures prominently in the display. Here’s a view of the train station.
A miniature White Lily and J. Allen Smith & Company in Knoxville.
Lay Packing and the Hotel Farragut in the background. (Today, that’s the Hyatt Place at 530 S. Gay St.)
The old McClung warehouses.
Another view of Lay Packing. (The display is set to go from “daytime” to “nighttime” every few minutes. It was nighttime in this photo.)
In addition to the miniature displays, there was a lot of other circus memorabilia.
Display of an elephant’s blanket.
The bandwagon. It actually carried a performing concert band when the circus came to town.
The Ringling is located on stunningly beautiful property on Sarasota Bay.
I love Spanish moss.
Another stand of banyans.
We did not have time to tour the opulent Ca’ d’Zan, the 36,000-square-foot home built by John and Mable Ringling in 1924-26.
We loved looking at some other parts of the grounds, like this beautiful courtyard.
Another view of the same courtyard.
And now, the art!
A glass exhibit had just opened when we were there. I loved this yellow amulet basket by Laura Donefer.
How about this sideboard by Beth Lipman? (I asked Alan to stand in the photo so you could see the size.)
Here’s a funny one. It’s called “White Trash II” by Matt Eskuche. Yep, they are made of glass.
In addition to the new glass exhibit, The Ringling has all kinds of other art.
From the modern like this by Ya Levy La’ford, which Alan said reminds him of when he has “visual migraines,” to an extensive collection of Baroque masterpieces acquired by John and Mable Ringling.
There is gallery after gallery like this of classical works.
Including many by Peter Paul Rubens.
With a Rembrandt thrown in for good measure!
It was an impressive — if a bit overwhelming — collection.
I wanted to mention just one other Sarasota treasure. We walked to it from The Ringling. It’s an unassuming seafood joint called Captain Brian’s. It came highly recommended, and we even ran in to some of our party there unexpectedly.
Captain Brian’s was established in 1983.
Here’s its unassuming interior.
And the best darn grouper Reuben you’ll ever put in your mouth!
So, there you have it. Get to Sarasota, if you can. The play, “Knoxville,” runs through May 11 with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Check out the Asolo Rep’s website for details and tickets.