Because of Winn Dixie – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Audiences have long held great affection for dogs on stage. But not since a red headed girl named Annie had a companion pup Sandy, a Kansas girl called Dorothy ended up in the land of Oz with her beloved Toto, a law student Elle took her puppy Bruiser to classes at Harvard has a girl named Opal captured hearts with her fuzzy furry mutt Winn Dixie.

Goodspeed Musicals will be letting Winn Dixie out of the dog house until Thursday, September 5 to capture your heart with this book turned into a movie and now a new musical, based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo, with book by Nell Benjamin and music by Duncan Sheik. Animal trainer Bill Berloni who found the stray to play Sandy for Annie has worked his wonders again with Bowdie who “stars” as Winn Dixie.

Josie Todd’s Opal is full of spunk and ready to conquer her new home that she has just encountered with her preacher dad J. Robert Spencer. Since Opal’s mom has run off, Opal has felt lost and abandoned but still hopeful that sunshine is surely over the horizon. When a huge stray dog, that resembles a small pony, finds himself in trouble in the local grocery store it is Opal who comes to his rescue and “adopts” him. He is named for the store in which he is found: Winn Dixie. He is lucky because he could have invaded the Piggly Wiggly.

While her father is less than anxious to squeeze a dog into their small living space, he is wise enough to recognize Opal’s need for companionship. Being a stranger in a new town is made a little easier with Winn Dixie by her side.

Their adventures begin when Opal tries to buy her pup a collar and she encounters the “strange and dangerous” pet store proprietor Otis, a guitar playing David Poe, who allows her to “work” off the cost of the collar. The fearless Opal also makes friends with another local outcast, the town witch, Gloria Dump, played by Roz Ryan. As an “outcast’ herself, Opal has special properties that attract the less fortunate to her side. When Winn Dixie gets lost in a thunder storm, the town’s people rally as a community to find this newest member and bring him safely home.

Set in Naomi, Florida, this sweet story features songs like “Strays,” “Offer It Up,” “Raise Your Voice,” “Bottle Tree Blues,” “Searchin’ “ and “What I Got is You.” John Rando directs this endearing family classic with choreography by Chris Bailey.

For tickets ($29 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals, on the Connecticut River in East Haddam, at 860-873-8668 and online at goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (select 2 p.m.), Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (select 6:30 p.m.).

For a solid dose of heartwarming joy, and maybe a dog biscuit or three, let Opal and Winn Dixie “rescue” you and become life long friends…at least for a few delightful hours.

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