Colleen Petrucci has vivid memories of the first time she saw Ken Gargaro. Her talents as a tap dancer had earned her an audition for a 1996 production of "Crazy for You" for Pittsburgh Musical Theater.
"He had no shoes on his feet, he had white linen pants on, a red jacket, and he was eating a bag of potato chips," recalled the new executive director, who takes over for the retiring Mr. Gargaro next season. He walks up to me and he's like, 'So, I hear good things about you. We'd love to have you aboard.' "
Ms. Petrucci took the job as a performer and enrolled her two young children in the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory. She was asked to fill in as a faculty member, then take the job full time, and never looked back. She has been the Conservatory's director and PMT general manager, learning from "my friend and mentor."
"It just feels like home," Ms. Petrucci said.
PMT's board of directors completed an 18-month succession planning process and unanimously selected Ms. Petrucci to succeed Mr. Gargaro, whose most recent title had been founding director.
Theater artist and educator Gargaro, 66, founded Gargaro Productions, which morphed into Pittsburgh Musical Theater in 1990. He will officially step down Sept. 30 but maintain a position as "board emeritus." He has in recent years established a theater department at Robert Morris University and leaves as finishing touches are being put on the overall upgrade of PMT's building on Main Street in the West End, which now has a theater and improved rehearsal and classroom space.
He has been talking about retirement for a while, although he remains at Robert Morris, where he has created collaborative productions with PMT.
"Someone who has spent most of his career in nonprofit arts can never completely retire," he said.
The official announcement of the change at the top was made today at the Byham Theater, where Ms. Petrucci also announced the company's new season. She chose the shows with an eye toward improving the subscriber base and maintaining the mix of family-friendly and more adult shows, plus musicals not often seen at PMT. The season-opening "A Chorus Line" continues the annual collaboration with the Pittsburgh CAPA Orchestra.
The schedule also includes a personal favorite.
"I've always wanted to do 'Peter Pan.' I think it's a classic, people always enjoy it. That's a show that involves flying, so it's a little more costly, but I think 2015 is the year we are able to do that," said the company's new chief.