THE LEADING MEN: Colin Donnell of Merrily We Roll Along and Anything Goes

By Kenneth Jones
12 Feb 2012

Colin Donnell
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I'm wondering if your time covering for multiple Jersey Boys roles helped prepare for the mental math of Merrily. There's a lot for your brain to digest.
CD: [Laughs.] Definitely. In the past, I've done some covering. My first show in New York I covered three guys in Jersey Boys. I think it was always something that was helpful for keeping my head on straight. Even doing the run-through yesterday, it was like, "Okay, what's next? Oh, wait! Got it — 'It's a Hit!' and then 'Bobby and Jackie and Jack' is after that, and then, wait! 'Not a Day Goes By' and then — Oh, am I done? No, no, no. I've got 'Opening Doors' next!" [Laughs.] It's totally a Murderers' Row of numbers — that's how Lin-Manuel [Miranda] put it.

My memory of when we talked at the time of Anything Goes rehearsals is that you came into acting because you had suffered a sports injury.
CD: Yeah, I was a freshman in high school, and I broke my ankle playing football. As a result, I ended up stopping wrestling, and then my mom suggested that I find something else to do. They were doing Barnum at my high school, and I could juggle. That's what got me into the whole thing. I juggled for an audition and then it sort of just took off from there.

Did you play Barnum?
CD: No. I was in the background walking on a big plastic ball and juggling pins.

Apparently your ankle healed.
CD: Yeah! It worked out all right. [Laughs.]

Were you on a track toward sports? Were you going to be a pro athlete?
CD: No, I think, actually, really, what I wanted to do for the longest time was be a pilot. I was even considering trying to get an appointment through the Naval Academy or someplace like that, where I could pursue that. It was still early in high school when it happened. In reality, I probably didn't know what the hell I wanted to be. [Laughs.] This certainly wasn't on the radar until all that happened, and when it happened it just kind of hit me that this is something that I really enjoyed. I was like, "As long as I'm still enjoying it, I'll keep doing it." And, so far, I've kept enjoying it.

Where'd you go to school?
CD: Indiana University.

You grew up in Indiana?
CD: St. Louis, Missouri.

Were your folks supportive of theatre and arts?
CD: Totally. They were 100 percent behind me the whole way. It was really terrific. I've got a couple of brothers who are older than I am, and they were supportive of us going into all different fields — really lucky in that way.


Laura Osnes and Colin Donnell in Anything Goes.
photo by Joan Marcus

St. Louis is home of the Muny. Did you see shows at the Muny as a kid?
CD: I did. I grew up attending, and then the summer after my senior year of high school I started working there in the chorus. Yeah, it was kind of a bizarre thing to have your first introduction to professional theatre be a 12,000-seat outdoor auditorium. [Laughs.]

Kate Baldwin once told me that she swallowed a bug when she played Maria Von Trapp there.
CD: That's like a bi-weekly occurrence there, I think.

Where did you earn your Equity card?
CD: At the Muny, actually. Yeah — that first summer after high school. I think the first show I did that summer was Miss Saigon.

Does dancing come naturally to you? Anything Goes is such a great showcase for you, in many ways.
CD: You know, it was something that I did study back in college and a little bit in high school, but it was something that I sort of pushed to the background. Certainly, this type of partnering just isn't done on Broadway anymore, so when Kathleen [Marshall] told Laura [Osnes] and I that we were going to be doing this, I sort of said, "Oh, have fun with that!" [Laughs.] She showed us a clip of "Cheek to Cheek." I was so excited about that — because I grew up watching movie musicals with my mom and watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. I was so excited to try and get to imitate that sort of stuff. Kathleen showed a lot of faith in us that we could pull that off. I think we did pretty well — it's fun.

You do it so effortlessly — and you look so much like Gene Kelly.
CD: That is the best compliment that I've ever got. Thank you so much.

No one has ever told you that you look like Gene Kelly?
CD: Never gotten that before. I love it. I love hearing it, certainly.

After Merrily, you're going back to Anything Goes?
CD: Yeah, like two days after we finish up here. I've got to say that I'm really excited to get back to them. It's weird being away. I'm having the best time doing Merrily, but I miss Sutton and I miss Joel and I miss the show. I miss the whole company over there.

It's a family.
CD: Yeah.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

Playbill Video visited the cast of Merrily We Roll Along in between rehearsals: