The Story of Ferdinand | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Story of Ferdinand

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The Story of Ferdinand, Lifeline Theatre. Munro Leaf's children's story--the quintessentially Taurean tale of a lumpish bull content to loll in the shade all day smelling flowers while his rambunctious penmates smack their heads against fence posts hoping to enter the bullfighting ring one day--speaks to us with a mythic resonance. In a country dominated by the Protestant work ethic, Ferdinand beckons us to the nearly forgotten part of ourselves that indulges idleness without guilt.

Plumbing the story's playful depths, adapter James Sie and composer Douglas Wood turn this simple fable into a cartoonish opera, elevating children's theater above its usual pedantry. The superabundantly talented Nadine Gomes, her bright soprano voice so pure you know within minutes you'll die happy for having heard it, leads the intelligent five-person cast. While director Frances Limoncelli's rather pedestrian staging occasionally forces the actors to plod when they should soar, they generally steer clear of simplistic choices, instead discovering the characters' contradictory impulses. And while Limoncelli could have worked a little harder to find staging conventions as clever as Wood and Sie's lyrics, the three of them avoid the kind of theatrical excess too many artists use to bludgeon children into submission. On the whole this show is smart--a word that rarely applies to children's theater.

--Justin Hayford

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