Review Roundup: BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE at Goodspeed Musicals

Review Roundup: BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE at Goodspeed Musicals

In a Southern town filled with lost souls, a new leash on life is just around the corner when a preacher and his daughter take in a mutt named Winn Dixie. The beloved, award-winning novel about a quirky community learning to get along now sings for the first time in this uplifting new musical. Let Grammy and Tony winner Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Tony nominee Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde, Mean Girls) take you on a heartwarming adventure for all ages. Because of Winn Dixie is made possible in part by Updike, Kelley & Spellacy, P.C., the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Robinson + Cole and ACMT, Inc.. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Because of Winn Dixie will be Directed by John Rando and Choreographed by Chris Bailey with Animal Direction by William Berloni.

Because of Winn Dixie will run June 28 - September 1, 2019 [Official Press Opening July 17] Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).

Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or online at goodspeed.org.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Joseph Harrison, BroadwayWorld: Goodspeed's production of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE is a fresh, heartwarming and entertaining evening at the theatre. Duncan Sheik's (SPRING AWAKENING) music employs a mix of styles, appropriate for the setting - from church music ("Raise Your Voice, O Lord of Pilgrims"), to folk songs ("Searchin", "You Can't Run") to the blues, Mr. Sheik delivers a score that is tuneful and uplifting. Nell Benjamin's lyrics and book are extremely effective in moving the story along, though the dialogue occasionally steps into Hallmark movie territory. Overall, there are some very nice moments, especially in the moments where Opal meets some of her new friends, and in the more emotional and real scenes with her father.

Nancy Sasso Janis, Patch: Josie Todd, who hails from Memphis (in Tennessee, not the musical,) stars as Opal in her Goodspeed debut. She played the role with plenty of spunk and sang very well, all while giving the onstage cues to her canine costar. Equity member Jay Hendrix from South Florida made his Goodspeed debut as the younger Dewberry brother named Stevie. Equity's Jamie Mann made his debut at Goodspeed as the older brother Dunlap; this teenaged dancer from Westport danced the role of Fritz in THE NUTCRACKER at Westport Country Playhouse. Fourteen year old Chloe Cheers, a member of the class of 2023 at LaGuardia HS of Performing Arts in NYC, did well as Amanda. Sophia Massa (national tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC) made her Goodspeed debut in the role of the tiny, sparkly and adorable Sweetie Pie; this young actress got to wear some colorful outfits as she not-so-secretly adored Stevie.

Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: It would be wrong to expect that, just because "Because of Winn-Dixie" stars a dog and is based on a best-selling children's book, the show's creators would dumb down the show and restrain their well-honed creative instincts. From book writer and lyricist Nell Benjamin, we get the same sort of snarky, sarcastic, hilarious one-liners and character-defining voices that she brought to the musical versions of "Legally Blonde" and "Mean Girls." From composer Duncan Sheik, we get the same dark, self-questioning, inner-soul chord-striking he nailed in "Spring Awakening" and "Alice by Heart." For lovers of a certain style of cerebral pop song, it's a genuine thrill to hear Duncan Sheik songs interpreted by David Poe.

E. Kyle Minor, New Haven Register: As if doubting their material, the musical's creators insert cute business for our canine hero to obfuscate their show's flaccidity, ranging from the expected handshake to featuring the dog in the second act, running solo on a treadmill through a dreaded thunderstorm. Dixie jumps the shark. What's so disappointing is that all of the leisurely charm of DiCamillo's book and Wayne Wang's 2005 film starring AnnaSophia Robb and Jeff Daniels somehow escapes this musical. One expects creators as accomplished as Sheik (whose score for "Spring Awakening" is skillful and heartfelt), Benjamin and Rando to provide at least as much genuine characterization and story, if not reveal something freshly vital about the story to their audience.

Bob Verini, New York Stage Review: Benjamin, whose sharp Mean Girls and Legally Blonde stagecraft must have been expected to cut through the sentiment (and generally does), creates character types for heated conflicts between pigheaded parents and precocious preteens. This emphasis dovetails with composer Duncan Sheik's old Spring Awakening preoccupations, but also sits uneasily with DiCamillo's ambling, rueful mood. John Rando's glide-in, shuffle-out staging could benefit from more invention, and a better balance between the urgent and reflective moments. On the plus side, Donyale Werle's mossy proscenium and backgrounds, against which lighting designer Jeff Croiter's clouds and shadows pass and Olivia Sebesky's projections highlight ingenious details, do capture the essential humidity throughout.

Christopher Arnott, The Hartford Courant: These colorful characters get to define themselves through song, sometimes several songs in a row. The accomplished singer and songwriter and recording artist David Poe delivers some stirring lost-soul tunes as a withdrawn pet shop owner named Otis, vilified because of gossip about him having gone to jail. Roz Ryan, a long-serving Mama Morton in "Chicago" on Broadway, belts out bluesy songs that reveal her character, Gloria Dump, to be something other than the evil witch she's rumored to be. There's also a severe librarian named Franny, played by Broadway veteran Isabel Keating. Thanks to these characters, "Because of Winn-Dixie" can offer storytelling, standalone songs and story-songs that stand up well aside all the charming dog tricks.

Frank Rizzo, Variety: Best of all, there's mutt Bowdie, who is described as a cross between "a poodle and something large." Bowdie survived "Peter Pan Live" and starred in a memorable episode of "High Maintenance," but here he takes on the largest stage role ever for an animal, showing off a different set of skills in every scene where the tale wags the dog. Guided by animal director William Berloni, Bowdie pretty much carries the show with natural charisma and a big lug of a face that's impossible not to love.

Todd's likable Opal has the right attitude and appeal for a rescue kid, though pitch and articulation issues sometime limit her songs' connections. Spencer ("Next to Normal") balances his character as a sincere person of faith with the realities of being a mortal man and parent, while Ryan is terrific as neighbor Gloria, nailing the number "Bottle True Blues" with a big down-home style that gives the show a powerful boost.

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