- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ferdinand, you had me at “moo.”

The flower-sniffing, kindhearted horned hero of Munro Leaf’s 1936 picture book “Ferdinand the Bull” has been brought to the stage in a stampede of color, music and flamenco dance in Imagination Stage’s rich musical adaptation by Karen Zacarias and Deborah Wicks La Puma.

Baby boomers (and their parents) may well deem Mr. Leaf’s classic tale about being true to oneself among their favorite childhood books. Modern tots might not know about doe-eyed Ferdinand or that the peaceful book has a turbulent history. It was once banned in Spain and was burned as propaganda in Nazi Germany because of its purported pacifist, antiwar message.

You don’t have to know any of that to get a charge out of “Ferdinand.”

Miss Zacarias expands on the simple story by adding characters and additional plot entanglements without detracting from the sweetness of its central character or the main theme that standing up for who you are takes bravery beyond fighting. The cheery dialogue — in both English and Spanish — and lyrics (filled with many puns and allusions to classical theater for the grown-ups) are coupled with a musical score by Miss Wicks La Puma that zestfully incorporates Spanish music and guitar rhythms that are expertly performed by Michael Perez.

Ferdinand (Ricardo Frederick Evans, imbuing gentle grace in the title role) is a bull of a different stripe. He doesn’t want to snort or clank horns with the other bulls. What kind of ferocious beast sunnily calls out “Hola, amigos!” to everyone he meets and ends each sentence with a little “cha-cha-cha”? Moreover, he especially doesn’t want to become “el toro” in the ring. He just wants to smell and tend to the flowers.

The boy Danilo (Andrew Boza) is a kindred spirit. Duque (Michael John Casey, hilariously loopy), his overbearing, militaristic father, wants him to be a toreador. But Danilo was born to dance.

How Ferdinand and Danilo get out of the bullring and into their true selves is the main thrust of this anti-bullfighting tale. Both the lyrics and the dialogue promote the idea of learning to really listen to what other people (and animals) are trying to say rather than pushing your own agenda. The theatrical pig Cochina (Sarah Beth Pfeifer) is so consumed by her desire to become a famous actress that she considers sacrificing her friend Ferdinand to the sword in exchange for fame. Duque, meanwhile, ignores his son’s real talent and aspirations because he wants Danilo to realize his unfulfilled macho dreams.

This quest for authenticity is presented in a swirling, color-saturated style that features a Joan Miro-inspired set by Eliizabeth Jenkins McFadden. It’s dominated by a black filigree lace fan as a backdrop — the ideal setting for Renee Lamont’s exuberant, foot-stamping, castanet-clicking dances.

It’s “Ole!” from start to finish with Imagination Stage’s triumphant adaptation of “Ferdinand the Bull.”

★★★½

WHAT: “Ferdinand the Bull,” books and lyrics by Karen Zacarias, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, based on the story by Munro Leaf

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 1:30 and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Special 11 a.m. performances on Oct. 10, 17, and 31. Through Nov. 1

TICKETS: $10 to $21

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