Most well known for his Tony-nominated work on the books of the Broadway musicals Hairspray and Cry-Baby, he is also notable for his plays Vertigo Park, Strangers on Earth, and The Nice and the Nasty. He also briefly wrote for Saturday Night Live and for the comedy magazine Army Man.
While attending Harvard College in the mid 1970s, he wrote for the humor publication The Harvard Lampoon and for the student drama association Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
He penned novels titled Let Nothing You Dismay and Getting Over Homer.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he was the identical twin brother of television comedy writer Steve O'Donnell.
He often collaborated with Thomas Meehan on the books and lyrics of popular Broadway musicals.