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Shrek at Pittsburgh Musical Theater 

Too much bland material, too little goofy charm.

Billy Mason (left) and David Toole in Pittsburgh Musical Theater's Shrek The Musical.

Photo courtesy of Rockhan Photography.

Billy Mason (left) and David Toole in Pittsburgh Musical Theater's Shrek The Musical.

Shrek the Musical? Everything is so discolored, Shrek the Wreck fits better.

When William Steig's kids' book Shrek! was published, in 1990, the story of a fat, green, bald, ugly ogre, who lives in a swamp and eats squirrel guts, worked because of one word: imagination. The story sprung off the pages simply and sweetly.

Steven Spielberg bought the book's rights the following year; Dreamworks made the hit animated film. Then came the Broadway musical, by composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist and librettist David Lindsay-Abaire.

The story is basic: If Shrek rescues Princess Fiona from her tower prison and delivers her to Lord Farquaad, then the ogre and his storybook pals get to reclaim the swamp as home.

Was everything else in this stage version added merely to flesh out the plot? Pittsburgh Musical Theater's production of Shrek the Musical lumbers along for close to three hours, with unmemorable tunes and parades of familiar fairy-tale people, including a Puss in Boots who could easily appear in an adult mag, and a falsetto Pinocchio with a nose that, as it erects, looks a bit too familiar.

There's so little opportunity for anyone to do anything good since the material is so bland. I was hoping for some goofy charm . . . and I did at least find someone charmingly goofy: Accomplished actor and storyteller Tim Hartman, who portrays the meanie, maimed Lord Farquaad. Hartman is a delight; droll and dizzy, sometimes a real butch number, but often, with a flip of his jet-black 'do, as campy as Paul Lynde. To play the diminutive Farquaad, Hartman must walk on his knees, tiny fake legs dangling before him — an initially funny sight gag that he controls so masterfully it never drags.

A suggestion: If Hartman slices 120 minutes of the show, tosses the three blind mice and most fairies, and tames the Donkey's ass, the show's moral about inner beauty and self-esteem and how we are all alike would surface faster than a moment of being scared shrekless.

One more thought: Fiona wears a Granny Smith-colored gown, a Fiona Apple at least. Am I the only one who eats that up?

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