The man behind the Shrek suit

Move over, Jenny Craig. There’s a new way to lose inches.

“I’ve lost about 35 pounds since we started the production,” says Eric Petersen of being encased in his big, green Shrek costume in “Shrek: The Musical.”

The popular show opens at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco today.

“I call it the ‘Shrek’ workout,” he adds. “It’s great. I eat essentially what I want, whenever I want. But it takes a lot of stamina to be in the costume.

“It’s really not that bad,” he says.

Actually, it’s quite good. Nabbing Tony Awards and charming theater audiences since it stormed the Broadway scene a couple of years back, “Shrek” is a big fat hit.

Petersen stars alongside Haven Burton (Princess Fiona) and Alan Mingo Jr., who takes on Donkey duties in this rendition of the hit films.

The show is directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, with a book by David Lindsay-Abaire, and alluring music and lyrics from Jeanine Tesori. Watch for songs like “Big Bright Beautiful World,” “The Goodbye Song” and “Morning Person” to stand out, among a whimsical posse of others.

“It exceeds people’s expectations,” Petersen says, adding, “I am most proud of the fact that adults come to see it and really enjoy it just as much as the kids.”

But about that Shrek costume: Think of it as an enormous fat suit. Tony-winner for best costume design Tim Hatley layered the beastly outfit with a variety of foam and weights.

“It’s sort of like a bean bag, with a belly that hangs and sags,” is how Hatley described it.

Even though the costume sends Petersen’s body temperature rising, there are air holes that allow oxygen to travel up and through it. A release mechanism on the top outer layer of the wool costume Petersen wears also opens up, letting cool air get to him rather quickly when he’s offstage.

Beyond that, the man is encased in a green prosthetic head, which takes about 90 minutes to configure before each performance.

“It’s very involved,” Petersen adds. “It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done for any show.”

So, has his Shrek experience made him believe in the magic of fairy tales all “ogre” again, as the show’s catchphrase promises?

“Yes,” Petersen says. “But I’ve always liked Peter Pan and the idea of ‘never growing up.’”

Good news: Pete’s in this wild tale, so there’s plenty of folly and green to go around.

IF YOU GO

Shrek: The Musical

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; plus 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 26; 2 p.m. Dec. 23 and 30; 2 p.m. Dec. 24; closes Jan. 2

Tickets: $30 to $99

Contact: (888) 746-1799 or www.shnsf.com

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