The Story of Ferdinand
, about a flower-loving, peace-loving bull, by Munro Leaf with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Lawson of Ferdinand cavorting in the fields, has been a children's favorite for more than 70 years. Under Jennifer Childs' direction, the Arden's musical adaptation of this short, sweet book is also short and sweet. Adam Riggar's pop-up-book set and Rosemarie E. McKelvey's colorful costumes contribute to the mild fun.
The book has very little text: Ferdinand refuses to fight in the bullring, and the moral of the story is to be true to yourself. Like its source, this gentle show teaches you to follow your own nature and your own dreams, but it doubles the lesson by providing a parallel story among humans. While Ferdinand (big, dimpled Joe Coots) tends to his flowers, Danilo (Conrad Ricamora) studies dancing. The plots thicken when Danilo's father, the stern, animal-hating Duke (Tom Teti), insists that his son follow the Spanish macho tradition and become a bullfighter.
Out in the countryside, they search for a ferocious bull; Ferdinand's friend Cochina (Maggie Lakis), a Miss Piggy knockoff, decides to volunteer Ferdinand so the Duke will give her a big break in showbiz. Peaceful bull and peaceful matador meet in the bullring, and both discover that the way of peace is the way of happiness: better to dance than fight, better to garden than snort and paw the ground.
The show's music and dance try to teach the audience some Spanish and some Spanish culture, although the effect is like Flamenco 101 - no flash, no excitement, nothing that would make a kid think Wow! And although the cast is amiable, none of them is a singer, so the simple, repetitive songs are not showstoppers.
Tom Teti's villainy, ranging from Al Pacino to Bert Lahr, is the only comic relief in a fairly cloying show. The attempts to entertain the adults with Hamlet allusions fall pretty flat, and the most successful bits that made the kids laugh are the physical humor.
If you go to the show, stay for the brief question-and-answer session after the curtain calls. The children want to know how some of the effects work (moving the set on and off, flower petals falling from the sky, etc.), and what follows is a charming demonstration of stagecraft.
Adaptation and lyrics by Karen Zacarius, based on the book by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. Music by Debbie Wicks La Puma. Directed by Jennifer Childs. Sets by Adam Riggar, costumes by Rosemarie E. McKelvey, lighting by Drew Billiau, sound by Nathan A. Roberts. Presented by the Arden Theatre Company.
Cast: Conrad Ricamora (Duquito Danilo), Tom Teti (Duque Dodo), Joe Coots (Ferdinand the Bull), Maggie Lakis (Cochina). Ben Phipps on guitar.
Playing at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St. Through May 27. Tickets $14 to $30. Information: 215-922-1122 or www.ardentheatre.org.