Josie Todd as Opal and Bowdie the Dog as Winn Dixie in a special sensory-friendly performance at Goodspeed Musicals. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Prior to the Sensory-Friendly Winn Dixie at Goodspeed, Noelle joins Zachary as he colors Bowdie The Dog. Photo Courtesy Lily and Rick

The Next Sensory Friendly performance at Goodspeed Musicals is Dec. 29 for A Connecticut Christmas Carol. Photo Courtesy Lily and Rick.

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Woof Goes he plays Winn Dixie, with his adopted friend Opal, played by Josie Todd. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Goodspeed Musicals Scores Hit With Autism Friendly 'Winn Dixie' Performance

Bowdie The Dog and Josie Todd as Opal put on a special Sensory-Friendly performance at Goodspeed Musicals. Photo:Diane Sobolewski

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

Not since Goodspeed Musicals produced the international hit musical ‘Annie’ has a remarkable dog created such joy in the theater as Bowdie in ‘Because of Winn Dixie.’ This two-time Tony winning regional theater shared its success by offering heavily reduced tickets for families and caregivers of children with autism and other sensory issues.

One family of four –parents, Lily and Rick - with 12-year-old Noelle and 7-year Zackery, who is on the autism spectrum, agreed to be interviewed for this story.

Lily said, “We all very much enjoyed the play. Noelle's and my favorite characters were Gloria Dump - very large bluesy voice - and Otis the pet store owner and the three neighborhood kids. Zackary's and Rick's favorites were Otis the pet store owner, Sweetie Pie Thomas the neighborhood girl and Winn-Dixie the dog. Zackery said Otis's guitar playing, and singing was beautiful and quite moving. And the lighting effects, sets, and props we're beautiful and very soothing.”

She added, “The staff was amazing, and Goodspeed also provided fidgets [toys] for the kids, a plot synopsis, pictures of the characters and their names. All of the actors come out before the show to go through the audience and greet us, and there were several helpers in the theater where all you had to do was raise your hand if you had a problem or needed to be escorted out. Everything they did was spot-on for sensory sensitivity except for the volume of the show.”

Lily also observed, “Although the theater did offer earbuds some kids, including Zack, completely freak out when you go near their ears or mouths. but they also added yellow caution signs on the synopsis next to parts that we should expect to be loud, but this wasn’t helpful to him. We did have to leave the play at the beginning of the second act.”

Noelle and Rick said they would have loved to go back and see the rest of the second act. They felt that some of the subject material was quite true to life and dark including references to alcoholism and absentee parents.

They all agreed that that overall the experience was fabulous: “The building and location, the workers, and actors were all very impressive and very kind and thoughtful. We all thought it was so neat to see a dog on stage as an actor. He was so well trained and such a little sweetheart. Everybody just loved him.”

The kids said the theater itself inside and outside was "so cool" And they all agreed that they would love to go back another time for another show.

Coming up in December 2019:

Goodspeed Musicals’ spirited holiday hit ‘A Connecticut Christmas Carol’returns for a third year to The Terris Theatre with a sensory friendly performance at 2PM, Sunday, December 29.  Regular performances are December 4 –28, 2019.                                     

This tuneful and joyous new holiday treat features some of the most beloved storytellers in Connecticut history to brighten up a yuletide gathering you won’t forget. Famed actor and local legend William Gillette leaves his castle on the Connecticut River to adapt Dickens’ holiday classic. Local characters Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum and Benedict Arnold make spirited appearances opposite Gillette’s Scrooge in a highly theatrical twist on a family favorite. Custom-made for Goodspeed with all-original music, here’s a tuneful, wholehearted confection spiced with enough Nutmeg State flavor to sweeten your season.                                                                                                                                                    

With a  Book by L J Fecho, Music and Lyrics by Michael O'Flaherty, Choreography by Lisa Shriver, and Hunter Foster Directing, the musical’s details can be found at‎.

Goodspeed's sensory-friendly performances were developed in cooperation with the students and faculty of Franklin Academy.