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PMT goes green and family friendly with 'Shrek'

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Colleen Petrucci marvels that after 10 years in Pittsburgh Musical Theater's West End building, she can walk through the hall without sidestepping puddles, that the heating units are all doing their job, and there's no odor that may have had something to do with the mold that is now absent as well.

The old St. James School on Main Street is undergoing renovations, including the completion of a new roof, while PMT's pro/student company prepares a run of "Shrek the Musical," with Billy Mason in the title role and Tim Hartman as the diminutive Lord Farquaad.

'Shrek the Musical'
Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.
When: Tonight through Feb. 16. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; no performance Feb. 13.
Tickets: $12.25-$44.75; or 412-456-6666.

"We see that progress is being made every day, and we celebrate it," said Ms. Petrucci, PMT's general manager and "Shrek's" director. "You can even hear the [construction] workers singing; they have become like part of the family."

The wet, moldy place she described might be more comfortable for the swamp-loving ogre Shrek, but the renovations at PMT are suiting Mr. Mason, a PMT regular who studied at Boston Conservatory of Music, just fine.

About 500 people auditioned in the open call for the musical based on the Dreamworks animated film.

"I just saw in him both the ogre and the sensitive puppy dog that lives inside him," she said of the man who would be Shrek.

Mr. Mason, whose work for PMT includes "Children of Eden," found a lot to love about the big green ogre.

"I just love the beauty and the beast sort of story, that classic tale of two strangers meeting and falling in love. ... The character is so dynamic and funny and he has all these great qualities. And then I heard the score, and I just fell in love with it," said Mr. Mason, who sounds cheerful even about the hour and a half it takes to get into the makeup-prosthetic combo that transforms him into Shrek.

The musical features music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole"; "Good People"). It's as right for the kids as the original, but there's some bite to it for the adults.

In rehearsal, the hard part has been trying to stay in character when Tim Hartman is around. The gentle giant of Pittsburgh theater gets down on his knees to play the villainous Lord Farquaad and has a ball with the little Lord's shortcomings, which include banishing fairy-tale favorites from his kingdom. He recruits Shrek to retrieve the Princess Fiona from the clutches of a dragon so he can marry her and live happily ever after -- or so he says.

The outsider Shrek, who just wants to be left alone, is suddenly overrun with pesky characters and a motor-mouth Donkey who won't leave his side.

You probably know the rest of the story, but just in case, we'll leave it at that ... except to say that one of Mr. Mason's favorite scenes involves "a flatulent flirtation," and Shrek and Fiona undergo inner and outward transformations along the way.

"Shrek the Musical" is part of PMT's push to find newer family-friendly works that the company has not done before, a search that last season brought "Disney's Tarzan" to the Byham Theater, where "Shrek" opens tonight.

"Les Miserables" (March 27-April 6) and "Seussical" (May 1-11) complete the Broadway at the Byham season for 2013-14, and Ms. Petrucci said the theater company will inaugurate the new theater in Pittsburgh Musical Theater's spiffy building with "In the Heights."

That fairy-tale ending will have to wait for another "once upon a time" to take shape, one that Ms. Petrucci and Mr. Mason say is perfect for Valentine's Day.

"After all," the director said, " 'Shrek' is a love story."

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