Lissa deGuzman

December 2023 View more

The slipper fits perfectly for this Cinderella

Lissa deGuzman

Cinderella seems a long way from Gertrude McFuzz. That’s where Lissa deGuzman’s stage career began, as the single-feather bird in her high school’s production of Seussical.

Growing up near Milwaukee in a big sports family, deGuzman played soccer and basketball but made that leap to theater as a junior and hasn’t looked back. After graduating from Belmont University and working in a few professional regional shows, she was cast in the first national tour of Disney’s Aladdin. Coincidentally, so was her older brother, Mathew deGuzman, and the two siblings forged a tight relationship performing swing roles in both Aladdin on tour and on Broadway. Lissa also starred as Jasmine in that first national tour and, most recently, as Elphaba in the national Broadway tour of Wicked.

We caught up with her as she was prepping to play Ella in Drury Lane Theatre’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, running through January 7.

Q: Jasmine and Elphaba are modern musical characters, so what’s it like stepping into the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella?
A: It’s definitely a change, just by the nature of the music and the tone of the piece of the writing of that time. But what has been interesting for me—because Elphaba and Jasmine are such modern characters, we know them, we know what to expect, we have an idea of them right now—whereas Cinderella, who has existed for very long and has been done in multiple different ways, it surprised me with how much freedom that would give me, to still stay true to the essence of Cinderella but bring my own flair on it, and marry the Rodgers and Hammerstein time with the modern times, and bring Cinderella to life to be very relatable to people now. It surprised me with how much opportunity there was to give a new spirit to Cinderella while still honoring who we think of when we think of Cinderella.

Q: So that’s one of your favorite things, but it’s also one of the most challenging, to balance that?
A: Yes, because there is a pressure and there is an expectation, and I want to give people that and I want to feel that myself, so there’s a challenge to marry the two and find the perfect balance so that people are getting what they expected and then also leaving with something a little new, a broader perspective, a new breath of fresh air on who Cinderella is, and what she wants, and how she gets it.

Q: What’s it like to play a princess?
A: It’s fun—I love it. I love that nowadays the princess idea is changing—it’s not just about beauty, it’s not just about a damsel in distress—it’s about defying the odds and not just conforming to what society is presenting—showing that not conforming and being kind and finding the strength even when times are hard, what that can get you. You come for the beauty of a princess and the classic story of a princess, but you leave with a life lesson, just reminded of how being a good person goes much farther than not being true to yourself.

Q: What advice to you have for up-and-coming performers?
A: First, don’t compare your journey to other people’s journeys. Everyone is different. I always say comparison is the thief of joy. If you compare yourself then you’re getting in your own way. Success for someone else does not mean failure for you—that just means you’re on your own path.

Second, say yes to every opportunity, especially the ones that feel like they will be out of your comfort zone; that’s when you do the most growing. When you’re in a room with people who are far better than you, that’s when you rise above, and that’s when you get better. So, say yes to opportunities that scare you, and the learning never ends. I still take dance classes, I still take voice lessons, I still take acting lessons—the learning never stops.


Photo: Lissa deGuzman