An all-new production based on the classic William Steig book and the Academy Award-winning DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek the Musical, features one of Broadway’s most unlikely leading men. Accompanying the beloved green ogre on his journey from swamp to stage is 14-year-old Northern Westchester actress Marissa O’Donnell. We chatted with O’Donnell, who plays the role of teen Fiona, about hanging out with the famous hulk-with-a-heart. (The show opens December 14 at Manhattan’s Broadway Theatre.)
Q: Which do you enjoy more: school or performing?
A: School is what I should say, but it’s definitely performing. But I do know that an education is really important and that it helps me as an actor.
Q: How are you like your character, teen Fiona?
A: Well, I am a teenager. She’s in her tower, just waiting for things to happen, waiting for her prince and her dream to come true. I also think about when this or that is going to happen and I am impatient occasionally. Like teen Fiona, I have dreams I want to achieve.
Q: Why do you think people relate to Shrek, the character? He’s not exactly your typical warm-and-fuzzy type.
A: He’s not your average person or creature, but you can tell through it all that he has feelings and a lot of heart inside. You see him discover himself during his journey with Donkey and Fiona and he realizes that there is so much more to life than his swamp.
Q: Were you ever afraid of monsters?
How’d you get into performing?
I’ve always loved to sing and dance around the house. When I went to my first audition ever for Peter Pan at Yorktown Stage, I didn’t get the part and my mom said, ‘Did you really expect to get it on your first audition ever?’ I remember thinking to myself: ‘I’m going to do this.’ And now my own true dream of being on Broadway has come true.
What theater have you done locally?
I did my first workshop performance with Random Farms when I was eight; I was the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Then I moved to Yorktown Stage where I was a royal child in The King and I, also when I was eight. When I was nine, I got my first professional job as Rachel in Miracle on 34th Street at the Westchester Broadway Theatre.
How would you describe Shrek to a friend who was thinking about seeing it?
It’s a show for the whole family. The music is great and the sets, make-up, and costumes are amazing.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
I love the song “I know It’s Today.” Every time I get up to perform it, I feel this amazing rush. When I’m singing it, I really feel that I am teen Fiona.”
What do you enjoy best about doing Shrek?
Just being with the people in the cast and creative team who make it the best time and help you along on the journey. I love the show and the whole process.
What would you say is the most difficult part of doing the show?
Just keeping up with school and being on the schedule of getting up early and staying up late and doing my homework. It’s a tough commitment but this is what I want to do so I am going to make it work.
How are you dissimilar from the character you play?
Teen Fiona is very straightforward on what she wants—she’s just settled on Prince Charming. There are lots of thing I want to do—I love to write scripts for movies and plays and to draw and paint with oils, pastels, and pencil. I also love horseback riding—though I don’t have time for it now—and skiing.
What do you do backstage to kill time?
I do homework but I also read and play a lot of acting games, do improv, and make up monologues with the other theater kids—the two young Fionas and two young Shreks
How do you handle school with rehearsing and performing?
I go to a regular school; they’ve been very understanding in setting up my schedule so I can do the Wednesday matinees. I come home after school and try to do all my homework before I go the theater. I have to be at the theater each night at 7:30 and do eight shows a week. My mom or dad takes me home afterwards.
What’s your favorite subject in school and why?
English. I really enjoy writing scripts for movies and plays. I find that very entertaining.
Were you familiar with the show’s story before you auditioned for your part?
I was very familiar with it; it’s my family’s favorite animated film ever. We own two of the Shrek movies and I’ve watched them many, many times.
What was the auditioning process like?
They saw about 100 girls for the role. I only had one audition—I walked in and sang “I Know It’s Today,” and they said ‘Excellent’ and then I sang ‘I’m Holding Out For A Hero.’ They called me later to say I hadn’t gotten the role. But there was an event to showcase Shrek at Sardi’s a while afterwards and they asked me to be in that. A month or two later, out of the blue, they called to offer me the part in the show.
Where were you and what was your reaction when you found out that you were cast in this role?
I was in school at the end of eight grade and when my mom came to pick me up at the end of the day, she handed me an envelope like it was nothing and inside there was a small sign that said ‘You’re going to Broadway!” I was ecstatic.
Were you in the pre-Broadway run in Seattle?
Yes, I originated the role there. I spent two-and-a-half months over the summer and into September rehearsing and performing. Once school started, I had a tutor with the other children.
How would you say Westchester compares to New York City?
I like both. I love Westchester, the town I live in, and the people. In New York, there’s a lot more hustle and bustle. When I get to the city, I’m excited to be there and to do my job and when I come back here, I’m happy to be home and safe.
Do you watch American Idol?
I used to watch it a lot more in the earlier seasons, like when Kelly Clarkson was on; now I don’t watch it as often. I do love to watch the auditions; I think they are really interesting.
What advice can you offer to other aspiring young actors?
Follow your dream and don’t let anything get in your way. If it’s something you really want to do, you go for it.
Who is your Broadway acting idol?
On Broadway, it would be Sutton Foster, who plays the grown Fiona. The great thing about her is she is not a diva and just a real person. It’s great that all of her excellent achievement has not gone to her head; she’s a very down-to-earth person.
And singing idol?
Idina Manzel in Rent and Wicked. She has an amazing range and so much power and feeling to her voice. In Wicked, she gave me the chills.
What was the first Broadway show you ever went to?
Beauty and the Beast. I was five years old and I sat through the whole thing; I was glued to my seat.
Of all the Broadway shows you’ve seen, what are some of your favorites, besides Shrek, of course?
Hairspray is a real classic; I love it. Also, Legally Blonde. It’s really upbeat and fun.
What other role on Broadway would you really love to play?
Ariel in The Little Mermaid. All her songs are really great and it would be a fun role to play.
Where do you think you’d like to go to college?
I think I’d like to go to NYU and study acting and film.
What do you see yourself doing when you’re grown up?
I see myself acting and singing in the future, on stage and Broadway. And if not acting, then writing or directing.
Where do you think you’ll be ten years from now?
Having graduated from college and hopefully, just gotten a lead in a Broadway show!
— Laurie Yarnell