Matt Murphy, a producer on Broadway's Memphis, Impressionism and Thurgood, told Playbill.com that he has acquired the stage rights to Michael Blake's 1986 book, which is better known as an Academy Award-winning 1990 film that starred Kevin Costner (it won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, among other Oscars). Murphy is putting together a writing team to adapt the novel into a musical for the Broadway stage. He expects the score to have music inspired by folk, Appalachian, Civil War and Native American music.
In the novel, Lt. John Dunbar bonds with the Sioux and falls in love with a Sioux-raised white woman in a time when the U.S. Army threatens the future of the native people. The Sioux name Dunbar "Dances With Wolves."
"It's a beautiful story set within a spectacular setting so that you get lush visuals along with a gorgeous romance along with something of cultural significance," Murphy told Playbill.com. "I have never seen Native Americans on stage, I've never seen this story on stage."
Murphy said he was attracted to the story's "collision of two different cultures" and its exploration of "how different and how similar people are."
He called Dances With Wolves, the musical, "an epic dramatic musical." A large cast and expansive design elements are envisioned. "There is no way to do Dances With Wolves, which is essentially a Western on stage, without it being spectacular and epic in scope," Murphy said.
No production timeline has been announced. The project is in its seedling stage, with Murphy gathering creative and producing partners.
"Musicals take a lot of time to develop," he observed.
Murphy said that he's seeking an experienced musical-theatre writing team for the libretto and music and lyrics. Novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Blake is not expected to pen the libretto.
The project's composer will be teamed with a Native American musical expert to lend authenticity to the score, in the same way South African artists worked with Elton John on the score for The Lion King.
Murphy said he wants to properly represent "the ritual and ceremony of Native Americans," and added that he will also be seeking native people for the cast.
"Our goal is to honor the legacy of Native American culture," Murphy said.
Animals, which are so much a part of the film and novel, will be represented in "a creative way" in the design, Murphy added.
Murphy made his New York producing debut with the hit musical Altar Boyz. His imminent projects include two shows for youth theatre tours beginning in May 2010: a musical adaptation of the Berenstain Bears books and an original musical "for today's texting, blogging, and Facebooking generation" called Virtually Me!
For more information, visit www.mattmurphyproductions.com.