Duncan Sheik and Nell Benjamin Musical Because of Winn-Dixie Hoping to Bark on Broadway; John Tartaglia Helms

News   Duncan Sheik and Nell Benjamin Musical Because of Winn-Dixie Hoping to Bark on Broadway; John Tartaglia Helms
Move over, Sandy. Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening songwriter Duncan Sheik and Tony-nominated Legally Blonde lyricist Nell Benjamin are adapting Kate DiCamillo's children's novel "Because of Winn-Dixie," about a young girl and a homeless pooch, as a Broadway-aimed musical.

Duncan Sheik
Duncan Sheik Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

A Christmas Story, the Musical! producers Gerald Goehring and Michael F. Mitri, along with Dorothy Berloni, announced plans for a spring 2012 staged reading of Because of Winn-Dixie, which will precede an out-of-town tryout and a Broadway run. Music will be by Sheik, with book and lyrics by Benjamin.

Tony Award-nominated Avenue Q star and "Johnny and the Sprites" star and creator John Tartaglia is attached as the director of the musical that will feature animal direction by Tony-honored veteran animal trainer Bill Berloni (Annie, Legally Blonde, The Wizard of Oz).

While the human casting hasn't been announced, producers have found their furry star. Taran, an Irish Wolfhound, was selected by Berloni to star in the title role. The creative team will work to develop the musical and the role around Taran.

Dates of production for the musical that is budgeted between $6-7 million, have not been determined. The musical will likely utilize a cast of 15.

"It has always amazed me the reaction animals have on an audience," Berloni said in a statement. "My theory is we all know anything onstage is an extension of reality. We love when actors go up on lines and become real. We love seeing two partners in real life play characters onstage. So when a dog or cat comes onstage, our collective reality is 'Wait a minute, you can't get an animal to act, what is it going to do?' And it brings the audience closer into the piece. While you can create animals as main characters in film, it has never been tried onstage." DeCamillo's story centers on a young girl whose life is upended when her father, a Southern preacher, makes the decision to move the family to a small Florida town. She encounters a homeless dog outside the Winn-Dixie grocery store and slowly befriends the townsfolk through her adventures with the pup she names Winn-Dixie.

In a blog statement, the producers said they expressed interest in a musical of DiCamillo's property back in 2001, but negotiations were underway for the film of "Winn-Dixie," which was released in 2005.

"Because of Winn-Dixie" is DiCamillo's first published novel. It earned the Newbery Honor. She is also the author of "The Tale of Despereaux," which was adapted as an animated feature.

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