History / Inception
Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz is a Post-Punk Rock Opera about the fatal showdown between famed Sioux Leader Sitting Bull and Agent James “White Hair” McLaughlin at Standing Rock in the 1880s. The show chronicles Sitting Bull’s final years as a celebrity performer in the Wild West Show, his friendships with Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and Catherine Weldon, his involvement with the Ghost Dance, and the struggle leading to his tragic end. The fact that Sitting Bull was gunned down while 'resisting arrest'--on charges that were never made clear--makes this story especially relevant to the forms of racially motivated violence our country is currently facing.
Shaman and Chief, Sitting Bull was also famous as a singer and songwriter among the Sioux, and used this gift of expression to rally and move his followers, so it was only natural that Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz was conceived as a musical, although in a non-traditional style that reflects the spirit of this man in our own troubled times. Anticipating strong protest singers to come, Sitting Bull spoke out on behalf of the disenfranchised, and continues to speak to us now, particularly in light of the recent resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
Sitting Bull's Last Waltz was written by Nebraska Native John Schliesser, and produced by Schliesser and his wife, Kathleen Dougherty. Presented at the Johnny Carson Theater, in the Lied Center For The Performing Arts, at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, the show enjoyed sold-out performances and strong reviews while sparking conversations across the community on such issues as environmental protection, human rights, and religious freedom.
Fascinated since boyhood by Sitting Bull and the story surrounding his death, Schliesser started working on the script and songs for Sitting Bull's Last Waltz in 2014, eventually approaching Iggy Pop and the Stooges guitarist and producer James Williamson for advice on musical direction. Seeing merit in the project, Williamson introduced Schliesser to Gregg Foreman of Cat Power for help in refining the score, and they began cutting demo tracks at Joe Cardamone's Valley Recording Studio in Burbank. This led to early collaboration with Sioux performers Zahn McClarnon and Moses Brings Plenty, and a stage debut at the Dragonfly Theater in Los Angeles featuring Brings Plenty as Sitting Bull. The subsequent Lied Center production of Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz was developed in coordination with Sioux Elder Wendell Bird Head, who advised on ceremonial aspects of the story and presented a blessing before each performance, and Sioux Liaison Michelle Sky Walker, who engaged tribal participation. The cast included Sioux performers Mark Crow Dog, Leo Yankton, Enzo Gladfelter, and the late Moody Plenty Wounds, supporting Native American actor Alan Tafoya in the lead role.
Schliesser is currently developing the story and script with Wendell Bird Head and coordinating with key tribal members and organizations through Michelle Sky Walker. This Spring, New York-based theatrical producers Rachel Sussman and Kyle Cadette joined the effort to elevate the show and find its next stage, with Ms. Sussman acting as its Executive Producer and Ms. Cadotte acting as its General Manager. Mike Echternacht continues to serve as the show's key legal, business, and organizational advisor.take a listen