"Shrek the Musical" will delight the kids who love the animated Dreamworks film and surprise the adults who have expectations that it's the same old same old. The stage version of "Shrek" gets positively wicked at times -- "Wicked" being among the shows that gets a moment's parody here -- and Pittsburgh Musical Theater runs with the show's charms as much as its naughty streak.
The kids -- and there were plenty pre-K to tweens at the Byham Theater on Saturday -- will laugh at the bodily gas bonding scene and the like. But everyone gasps when Shrek at age 7 is serenaded out the door by his parents, who offer warnings such as, "When you are grotesque, life is Kafka-esque." Lyrics such as those are courtesy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole"), who pins well-placed zings into Jeanine Tesori's accessible tunes.
In another example, the song "Let Your Freak Flag Fly" is an anthem for an array of disrespected fairy-tale creatures, among them a Big Bad Wolf who looks more like Tyler Perry's Big Mamma. It contains the lyrics: "I raise my furry fist. ... It's time to tell the world I'm a Scientologist."
Pittsburgh Musical Theater fills key roles with versatile pros and fires its three-pronged secret weapon in Emily Lynne Miller as Princess Fiona. The Penn State graduate has been in several of the company's productions, and in "Shrek, she displays singing/dancing/comedy chops a la Broadway's original Fiona, Sutton Foster. Ms. Miller's fiery Fiona forges a bond with Billy Mason as the shy green ogre in the title role, who is more bite than bark, more melodious tenor than scary screamer.
The show also starts from strength by bringing towering Tim Hartman to his knees, literally, as diminutive, overcompensating villain Lord Farquaad. David Toole, a PMT vet of shows from "Rent" to the title role in "Tarzan," gets to show a comedic flair as Donkey, and Michael Greer may have the most laughs as the bumbling Royal Guard.
Fiona, as fans of the movie know, undergoes some major changes, revealed here through sparkling light effects by Todd Nonn. A big-bucks effect of the Broadway and touring companies was the puppet Dragon who falls hard for Donkey and impacts Shrek's happily ever after ending. Dragon here has scale if not scales, and what she lacks in intricate design and mobility is made up for in vocals, provided by Maria Mauti, Victoria Buchtan and Jessica Ortiz.
Director Colleen Petrucci pulls together a large pro-am cast that navigates big dance numbers choreographed by Lisa Elliott with the help of a 10-piece orchestra, led by music director Brent Alexander.
As family-friendly entertainment goes, PMT's "Shrek" offers a glimpse of a "big bright beautiful world" of musical theater possibilities where there really is something for everyone. And stick around for the encore -- the cast cuts loose on "I'm a Believer," a song that seems to bridge the generation gap no matter who is singing it.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.