When actors Billy Mason and Trumaine “Tru” Verrett-Fleming found out the Pittsburgh Musical Theater would be performing “Shrek The Musical” this season, both men jumped at the chance to audition for the show, which will be held at the Byham Theater through Feb. 16.
“I’m thrilled to be playing Shrek,” explained Mason, 34, who is playing the title role in the show. “I’d never seen the movies, but I got a whiff of the soundtrack of ‘Shrek The Musical’ and I fell in love with it! When I found out that Pittsburgh Musical Theater was doing it, I said I wanted the title role and I really went after it.”
Mason said he looked beyond the green, smelly ogre and looked deeper into who Shrek was.
“I looked at what Shrek’s journey was. Shrek is a sweet guy and he wants to be loved and he wants to love,” Mason said. “This isn’t a story about an ogre and a princess, it’s about the characters telling their stories.”
Verrett-Fleming, a 25-year-old senior acting major at Point Park University, agrees with Mason about the production’s overall “‘Shrek’ is one of the shows that speaks to everyone through cartoons and fairytale creatures. It tells the story of everyone. We’re all weirdos and we are all mixed up but we all want the same things,” said Verrett-Fleming who understudies the coveted role of the Donkey, but also plays a Doo Wop Doll, a guard and Humpty-Dumpty in the production. This is his first show with Pittsburgh Musical Theater.
“We all long for companionship, and a good job. This show is one of the most poignant shows and it has many versions but it has a universal message.”
“Shrek The Musical” music is by Jeannie Tesori and the book and lyrics are by Daniel Lindsay-Abaire. It is based on the 2001 Dreamworks film “Shrek” and William Steig’s 1990’s book “Shrek!” After a dry-run in Seattle, the original Broadway production opened in December 2008 and closed in January 2010. A United States tour followed—which made a stop in Pittsburgh in 2011. Since its debut, “Shrek The Musical’s” rights have been made available for independent and oversees theaters who have chosen to stage their own versions of the show.
“There is so much talent in this cast,” said Mason who earned his bachelor of fine arts in musical theater from the Boston Conservatory of Music. He honed his acting, singing and dancing chops at Ken Gargaro Productions, which eventually became Pittsburgh Musical Theater. Mason began singing and dancing in high school.
“We are here to tell a story. It’s not about a spectacle, we’ve made the best story that we can,” Mason continued. “This script is a little different and we have a lot of surprises, but we’ve also gone back to the original production.”
The cast of “Shrek The Musical” and all of Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s productions have 14 days to rehearse for the show. Mason, who now teaches acting classes at Pittsburgh Musical Theater, feels that the quick turnaround time makes the actors and actresses better performers.
“It’s hard days but it’s fun days. There are no divas and it’s never a chore to go to work. We all pull together to put on a good show,” Mason said.
In addition to intensive rehearsals, it takes Mason about two hours to get into the green ogre costume that is Shrek.
“I have to be painted and a foam latex mask is put on my face. There is a new mask for each performance. It’s a hot costume but once I’m in it. It becomes like a second skin. You sit down looking like yourself and when you get up again you are this cartoon character,” he said.
Although Verrett-Fleming doesn’t have to take that long to be put into costume, he gets a chance to put his own unique spin on the characters he plays.
“Humpty Dumpty gets stuck in Shrek’s swamp and the guard I play is very stoic and the dolls all look the same but this is a very fun show,” said Verrett-Fleming who will be seen in Point Park’s Rep Theater’s “Meet Vera Sparks” next month and works at the Point Park Playhouse box office, too.
“This show has shown me that I can be a character actor. I’ve done a lot of singing roles, singing comes naturally I didn’t choose it. This show has taught me that this is perfect for me. Pittsburgh Musical Theater let’s us create and just have a lot of fun.”
(Tickets for “Shrek The Musical” start at $12.25 and can be purchased by calling 412-456-6666 or visiting www.trustarts.org.)
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