- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Plans are under way to create a musical based on Kate DiCamillo’s book “Because of Winn-Dixie” with songs by Duncan Sheik and a real dog on stage.

Producers said Thursday they plan a workshop reading for the project this spring, followed by an out-of-town engagement and perhaps a spot on Broadway down the line. They’ve even found their star: Taran, an Irish Wolfhound, has been cast in the title role.

The musical, based on the 2000 novel, tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who gains confidence and rekindles her relationship with her father, thanks to a stray dog she finds one day at a Winn-Dixie supermarket. The novel was made into a film in 2005 starring Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews and Eva Marie Saint.

In addition to Sheik, who won a Tony Award for writing the music for “Spring Awakening,” the producers have tapped Nell Benjamin to write the lyrics and story. She earned a Tony nomination of “Legally Blonde.”

John Tartaglia, who made his debut as a puppeteer with “The Muppets” at age 16 and earned a Tony nomination for his puppetry in “Avenue Q,” will direct the project. The budget estimate is between $6 million and $7 million.

The animal director will be Bill Berloni, who has trained dogs for more than a dozen Broadway shows and discovered the original Sandy for “Annie.” He found Taran, who was adopted from a breeder in Connecticut. The musical will also have about 15 human actors.

The producers are Gerald Goehring, Michael F. Mitri and Dorothy Berloni.

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