Last year, Marissa O’Donnell told her mom that she wanted to start going on regular acting auditions. The 11-year-old had played a handful of roles in Westchester community theater, but her sights were set higher. So the freckled sixth-grader lined up behind hundreds of other orphan wannabes for the open call of Annie on 26th Street—in a rainstorm, no less. Within weeks, she not only had a callback but was onstage in the show’s national tour, and since then she’s gone around the country twice. This week, Marissa’s Annie lands pretty close to Broadway, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where she opens on Friday for a four-week run, co-starring with Kathie Lee Gifford. Despite a year and a half spent leading the hard-knock life on the road, which included dyeing her brown bob red, Marissa remains as relentlessly chipper as her character—she spontaneously broke into song in the middle of this interview—admitting only that the schedule’s pretty wearying. (Her favorite pastime: “I love to sleep. That’s the only real downtime I have.”) Although she’s had her share of good reviews, the occasional bad ink still generates an Annie-like response. When one online sniper said she wasn’t tough enough, she took it to heart: “I thought maybe she was right. I’m going to put more toughness into it and see if it works for me. I take a little advice from a bad review,” she says. “Or a not-nice review,” she corrects, in true Annie form.
12/6 to 12/30; Theater at Madison Square Garden, 32nd St. and Seventh Ave. (212-307-7171 or thegarden.com); $35–$99.