If Mary Fishburne were playing Little Red Riding Hood, she might just charm the wolf.
Fishburne, 22, a Northwestern High School and Troubadour alumna of 2003, is living what some aspiring musical theater actors would deem a fairy tale come true. While it might seem a charmed life, she admits it's full of challenges and hard work.
She packed up and headed to New York after graduating from Nashville's Vanderbilt University last spring, landing the lead in an off-Broadway children's theater production of "The Little Mermaid." When the show closed Dec. 30, she visited Nashville friends, then drove on to Ohio to play the young Tammy Wynette in a dinner theater production there.
When that production closes in March, it's back to her apartment in New York, where she will continue auditions and create a one-woman show with two writers.
She attributes it to good luck.
"There will be 500 people for an audition, and they all look like you," Fishburne said. "It's whether you fit the costume size or the directors had lunch before they saw you or something like that."
She hails from the musically talented Fishburne family of Rock Hill. Her mom, Shirley, holds undergraduate and master's degrees in organ performance from Winthrop University and an Ed.D. in music education from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her dad, a retired dentist, plays a variety of musical instruments, and Northwestern's Troubadours chorus played a large role in both Mary and her sister Anne's high school lives.
"She's just a gutsy little thing," Shirley Fishburne said about her daughter. "She feels she has been so blessed in Rock Hill with the musical instruction she has gotten in public schools."
Mary learned from Troubadour director Elizabeth Mixon, both in middle and high school. She took voice lessons at Winthrop before going to college and is studying voice in New York with Winthrop alumna Joyce Hall.
There's also a Rock Hill connection in Springboro, Ohio, where she opens Wednesday. Joe and Marilyn Mitchell of Rock Hill founded the 600-seat dinner theater where she is performing.
She is planning a spring show in Rock Hill to benefit The Children's Attention Home.
The Big Apple
Fishburne has been been singing along to "The Sound of Music" ever since she could walk and talk. Performing in musical theater was always her dream.
She at first declared music as her college major, then decided on music as her minor and a more practical business degree major focused on human and organizational development.
During her senior year, she decided to follow her dream. That led to a summer internship her senior year at the off-Broadway York Theatre Company, where she opted to remain through December and also took a Manhattan School of Music workshop.
Her parents did some nail-biting when their little Rock Hill girl moved to New York, but decided that Murray Hill, where her apartment is located, is one of the city's safer neighborhoods.
"It was a hard adjustment," Mary said of Manhattan. "It took four months to tolerate it and five to love it. Now I'm stuck loving it forever. It surprised me a lot, because it's very safe, and people are surprisingly nice."
The auditioning and the pop singing style intimidated the more classically music-trained Rock Hill native, but then she won a dancing callback for "The Little Mermaid" followed by a chance to read for a part. She won the leading role, promising to tone down her Southern dialect.
Although "Ariel" is the lead in Disney's version, the children's theater stayed true to the more complex Hans Christian Andersen parable. "Coral" is the lead who bargains with a witch and, in the end, must make a moral decision. She doesn't marry the handsome prince, but is rewarded for her moral decision with a mortal soul and long life as seafoam, enjoying both air and sea along the shore.
"The ending is sad, but a little uplifting, too," said Brenda Bell, artistic director for the Literally Alive Children's Theatre where Mary performed. "Mary did a lovely job. She's very talented. She has a lovely voice and did a nice job with the dancing. She made the role her own."
Bell also was pleased that the young Rock Hill woman interacted beautifully with the children who came to the show. Mary's also teaching music to pre-school children at the Hands On music studio in New York.
That, her musical theater gigs and a job at a New York bistro is paying her bills, much to the delight of her proud father, Coty.
Utilizing her roots
After she auditioned and won the young Tammy Wynette role in the Ohio dinner theater production, the director told her she didn't have to use a Southern dialect in off-stage conversation.
"I said, 'This is how I talk,'" she remembered. "I'm playing a country singer, and it's such a relief not to have to worry about watering down my accent."
She describes the young Tammy Wynette as quick to fall both in and out of love, but sees parallels between herself and the country star.
"She's very determined and stubborn," she said. "She was very driven. She picked up and moved to Nashville like I picked up and moved to New York."
In true New York theater style, she's subletting her apartment while in Ohio. When the show closes March 2, she returns to New York to work on a one-woman show and more auditioning.
"They are songs that no one has heard of that should be sung," she said of the one-woman show. "A lot of them are from cartoons and Disney shows."
Mary might bring some of those tunes to her charity performance in Rock Hill in April, but she hopes to focus on Broadway songs. She has raised about $25,000 for The Children's Attention Home in previous Rock Hill shows, but her goal is to raise $50,000.
The ingenue describes most of her roles as "cute and perky," and said her dream role is Glenda in "Wicked."
"She's a very funny role," she said. "She's a very perky, judgmental high school girl."
Probably cute, and charming, too.