Playlist Of The Month: Broadway Moments Of The Rosie O’Donnell Show

Whether it’s 1996 or 2016, Rosie O’Donnell is living our Broadway fangirl dreams. Last month we left Hamilton discussing how amazing it would be to be Rosie, who’s been something like 37 times and thus has seen every permutation of the cast. And as two musical-theater obsessed children, it’s hard to overstate how the Broadway moments of The Rosie O’Donnell Show molded our formative years. We saw an adult get as excited about new shows as we did, and just knowing that somebody else out there was playing and replaying cast albums was everything to us. To this day, our conversation about Everything’s Coming Up Rosie week included memories like “didn’t it seem like Fredi Walker was ALWAYS singing Seasons of Love on Rosie?” and “remember how much she loved Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk?”

Seasons Of Love from Rent

We were both Rent-heads (remember Everything Is Rent Week?), and the cast’s appearance on Rosie made an impression on us. So much so that we commented in Questions, Comments and Concerns: Rent, ” Seasons of Love is very obviously the song they included to be a breakout hit. Like, ‘okay, we need one song in a basic pop structure with no swearing or weird sex stuff in it so we can go on the Rosie show.'” And friendly reminder this is the OBC in the midst of Rentmania in 1996. Look at these babies whose lives are being changed.

Endless Night from The Lion King

The trajectory of musical theatre history is strewn with shows that changed Broadway. It didn’t start with Hamilton – there was a whole path from shows where the music had nothing to do with the plot, to songs that commented on it, to music that actually advanced the story. In the late 90s, The Lion King was another one of those shows changing Broadway by incorporating clever and elaborate costumes,  Garth Fagan’s modern choreography, and total smokeshow Jason Raize. Unfortunately, Jason’s talent was gone too soon after he hanged himself in 2004, but his Lion King legacy will live on forever.

Medley from Titanic

It’s easy to think this is something that would have happened as a result of the bizarre Titanic mania that struck in 1997-1998, but no: this musical predated the Titanic film, meaning that Titanic was kind of a topic of general interest in the 90s. This performance had me itching to see the Titanic musical, if only to find out how it sank on stage.

Willkommen from Cabaret

Caberet struck me as a “grown-up” musical in my Rosie days, but even at that age I couldn’t deny that Alan Cumming had a whole lot of charisma. Between rewatching this performance and picking up Alan’s memoir for some light bus reading a while ago, I have now become an unlikely Alan Cumming stan.

My New Philosophy from You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown

Adults playing kids are a weird thing. As an adult you can suspend disbelief when a grown-up plays a child in theater or on SNL, but as a kid you’re like “nope, that is 100% NOT a child, good try.” Or if you were me as a child, also “here’s my headshot, give me a job instead of this faker.” That would have been my reaction to You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown… EXCEPT for Kristin Chenoweth. I remember watching this and taking a while to decide whether this was an adult or not. Part of it is that Kristin is tiny, but it’s also how well she conveys the attitude and mannerisms of a 5-year-old.

Wheels of a Dream from Ragtime

Part of the brilliance of Rosie putting shows on a national platform is that people like us in Western New York or all the way in Alaska get a chance to see Broadway or are even introduced to theater through TV. I remember watching this and loving it so much that I later went to the library to borrow the soundtrack. In high school, I specifically chose to write a book report on Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow because it was what the musical was based on. And I never would have done that if I hadn’t seen these two icons perform on Rosie. It reinforced by love for theatre and gave me a peek into a world I longed to be in.

Who Will Love Me As I Am? From Side Show

For some reason I also clearly remember this performance, mainly because I thought it was so weird there was an entire musical featuring conjoined twins. However, it’s a great performance and a great song, featuring a pre-Tony Alice Ripley who can belt in my fave any day.

Dancing Queen from Mamma Mia!

Fact: I’ve seen Mamma Mia! more times than I should have as a teen. One of those times I saw it on tour and attended a dance workshop where the cast members taught us the choreography for Waterloo, which is the final number after the curtain call. And then we saw the show and got in the aisles and did the choreo like a pre-flash mob flash mob. Anyways, I thought I wouldn’t like Mamma Mia! at all, but two years before my shining moment in the aisle this happened on Rosie and I was all in.

No One is Alone from Into the Woods

If you haven’t seen Into the Woods, it’s important you know that despite the characters all being from beloved fairytales like Rapunzel and Cinderella, this show, specifically the second act, is NOT a necessarily family friendly musical. Despite that, it’s still a fantastic show, and Sonheim nonetheless, so I am envious of everyone that got to see this revival on Broadway. Especially because it features our favorite queen of Broadway and social media, Laura Benanti as Cinderella. Also featured: Adam Wylie aka Jack (of the Beanstalk) aka Brad from Gilmore Girls. In GG, he takes a leave from Chilton, and when he returns, Paris is just as bitchy to him as ever, and even tries to knock him off his game by singing about his magic beans, because Paris.

All That Jazz from Chicago

DR. LILITH STERNIN SINGS ALL THAT JAZZ AND WINS AN EMMY. Reminder that we watched Cheers this year. This role won Bebe her second Tony Award and it’s obvious why. What a gem. And way less obnoxious than Lilith.

Goodbye Until Tomorrow from The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years is undoubtedly one of our favorite musicals, but as someone who didn’t get into it until the revival several years ago, I definitely forgot that it existed at all during the Rosie era. Whether it’s Cynthia Erivo breaking our hearts with Still Hurting or the original off-Broadway cast on Rosie, Jason Robert Brown always knows how to tug on our heartstrings so hard that he rips our hearts all the way out.

Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie

Before Sutton Foster was THE Sutton Foster, she was “this new actress you need to know about, Sutton Foster.” She created a huge splash in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the first place I ever saw her was on The Rosie O’Donnell Show performing Gimme Gimme. If you told me that Sutton would still be a huge deal 18 years after this, I wouldn’t have been surprised. If you told me that Sutton would look maybe a week older 18 years later, that would have been harder to believe, but here we all are.

Last Night Of The World from Miss Saigon

Everything you need to know about us as friends and as individuals: as oddball fifth graders, we both really wanted to see Miss Saigon. Traci has a traumatic childhood memory of being left with basically strangers when her parents went to it without her, and Molly received tickets for her confirmation, a Catholic sacrament she celebrated at age 10. Weirdos. Fortunately, we BOTH caught OG Kim, Lea Salonga, on The Rosie O’Donnell Show during its convenient after-school time slot. On top of that, Chris was played by a young Will Chase, of Smash, Nashville, and Ingrid Michaelson’s boyfriend fame. What a dream.

 

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We’ll Never Love Anything As Much As Rosie O’Donnell Loved….

Rosie O’Donnell may be one of the most famous talk show hosts of the 90s and early 2000s, but we like to think of her as one of the most famous FANS, too. So deep was Rosie’s fondness for her favorite things that when we were discussing this post, we came up with dozens of musicians, games and foods that Rosie adored – even though it has been nigh on 14 years since The Rosie O’Donnell Show left the airwaves. While we like to think we share some of Rosie’s gusto, the fact is that we will never love anything as much as Rosie O’Donnell loved:

Kids

M: Rosie thought kids were punny (other thing Rosie loved: puns), but most of all, she was the ultimate kid-friendly adult. She actually LISTENED to kids, acted like their opinions and stories were legitimate, and didn’t ask them condescending questions. There’s a chance I’m conflating Rosie with Golly, her character in Harriet The Spy, but probably not.

I also always loved that Rosie seemed like a parent who genuinely got a kick out of her own kids, and I refuse to believe that Parker is a grown man because I still can hear Rosie’s Parker imitation.

Broadway

M: You know when you’d get a cast recording and listen to it over and over again? And maybe you still do that (ahem – Hamilton)? Rosie was a TV-sanctioned adult who did the same thing. Rosie adored showtunes and musical theater actors, and all of the hottest shows of the 90s and early 2000s performed on Rosie. It didn’t seem weird at the time, but there are very few talk shows that you can count on to feature up-and-coming musicals. There’s a lot to say here, so we’ll be revisiting this topic later in the week.

Of course, no mention of Rosie and Broadway would be complete without a nod to her tenure as Rizzo in Grease.

T: Remember right after her show ended, she invested in a musical called Taboo loosely based off of Boy George? Don’t worry, it got mostly bad reviews and closed after 100 performances, so unless you’re a crazy person like we are, you wouldn’t have remembered just how deep her Broadway love runs.

Broadway Kids

M: Rosie loved Broadway, and Rosie loved kids, so it stands to reason that Broadway Kids were Rosie’s jam – to the extent that she created Rosie’s Broadway Kids (now called Rosie’s Theater Kids), an organization that gets kids involved in the performing arts. However, during our childhood the Broadway Kids were at troop of polished musical theater kids who sometimes performed on shows like Rosie. I remember watching them through a lens of admiration mixed with envy. I feel like Lacey Chabert was always involved, but that can’t be possible.

T: Lacey Chabert – that bitch be everywehre.

Entemann’s

M: Entenmann’s baked goods reminded Rosie O’Donnell of the Long Island mom-types during her childhood playing bridge or whatever it was that Long Island moms did in the 60s. And now, Entenmann’s baked goods remind me of Rosie O’Donnell. I don’t know her position on TastyCakes.

T: I do know her position on Ring Dings, because audience members got that and milk before the show.

Koosh balls

T: There are few talk show hosts who can get away with launching rubber balls into the audience and make it look cool. Just imagine Oprah doing this for a second. And that’s OPRAH. When Rosie flung these into the crowd, it suddenly became an interactive show and added a sense of innocent fun unlike any other talk show on TV. It became so synonymous with her show that Koosh sold a special Rosie O’Donnell Show version of their Koosh Fling Shot, as seen here and the one sitting at my home collecting dust.

M: I got one of these at the store after the NBC tour, c. 1998. I don’t keep things so I got rid of it sometime in high school, but I sort of wish I still had it.

Tom Cruise

T: If there’s anything you took away from watching Rosie in the 90s, it’s that she had an obsession with two people: Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand. If you recall, Rosie had a soundboard that played audio clips next to her desk, and anytime she’d talk about her deep love for her celebrity crush, she’d play “Tommy, can you hear me?” a line from a song of the same name by The Who. She campaigned for him to be on her show, and when he finally made it, it was like watching Jim and Pam kiss for the first time. Rosie invited fans into her life by sharing personal anecdotes that made it seem we had been friends growing up in Commack, Long Island, and we were cheering her on as she lived out life long dream. I mean, while rewatching this clip, I legitimately said out loud (to no one), “THIS BRINGS ME SO MUCH JOY!” Especially if you forget about all of Tom Cruise’s persona.

M: When we were doing our Rosie Week research this summer, we were both floored by how quickly into the show’s run Tom appeared (plus a few others, like Donny Osmond). The buildup was so huge that at the time, it felt like years before “my Tommy” was a Rosie guest.

Barbra Streisand


T: As mentioned, Rosie’s other love was Barbra. She had loved the icon ever since she was a kid, not only because she enjoyed her music, but it was a common interest she shared with her late mother, who died of breast cancer when Rosie was just 10. She even used to amuse her mom by impersonating Barbra, so it was always like a maternal fan relationship with her.

In that first interview with Babs in ’97, I distinctly remember tearing up because Rosie was tearing up, but I feel like anyone would after watching Ro interview/meet her lifelong idol.

“For every boy and girl out there watching, dreams do come true, please welcome Barbra Streisand… You were a constant source of light in an often dark childhood. You inspired me and gave me the courage to dream a life better than the one I knew. I am profoundly grateful to you in so many ways.”

McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

M: Rosie seemed so genuinely delighted by McDonald’s toys that it didn’t occur to me until I was writing this post at age 30 that it could have been a marketing tie-in. And honestly? I still think she really liked the toys. Rosie always had ALL of the Teeny Beanie Babies, even the “rare” ones.

T: Rosie probably had the Princess Diana one, LBR.

M: Thing from my childhood I DIDN’T KonMari: My Princess Diana Bear. That thing was gonna pay my college tuition.

Chub Club

T: When you’re living in America, at the end of the millennium – you are what you eat. Which is why Rosie started the Chub Club, a campaign to get herself and viewers in shape. The motto was “Eat Less and Move More” and basically served as a virtual support group to lose weight. Over 300,000 people joined, and was a staple on Rosie’s show. She’d invite Chub Club members to the show, discuss the right foods to eat and try out exercise tips. If I wasn’t a tween at the time, I definitely would try to do this for the swag alone (I think there was swag, at least).

M: I love how no-fuss this idea is. There are no weird things with tracking carbs or fats (it was the 90s) and you didn’t have to do Billy Blanks. Everyone on a diet in 1999 had to do Billy Blanks workouts before this. That’s just how it was.

Being Kissable

M: Doesn’t ring a bell? Here, let me help. Scope did a poll that named Rosie one of the least-kissable celebrities. Yeah. If you think the media is nasty now, the 90s were possibly worse. Anyway, Listerine disagreed and donated $1,000 for every celebrity guest who kissed Rosie. In the end, it was a lot of money.

Being Crafty

T: This video includes two of our favorite people in the world. And if you’re wondering what the timeline is here, LG appeared on Rosie’s very last episode in 2002 aka season two of Gilmore Girls. Yeah, I know it’s weird. BUT THIS IS A DELIGHT. “Shells are very big for Summer 2002”.

Anyways, Rosie was so cool during this time that she made even crafting hip (amongst the suburban mom demo and kids under the age of 14). She even had a segment called Rosie’s Craft Corner, and she’d usually have either her official show crafter named Christina, I think? Or a celeb guest, as seen above. No lie, I bought Mod Podge solely because Rosie decoupaged all the things, so natch, I did too.

Being Irish-American

M: Rosie freaking loved being Irish-American, and it was so refreshing to have a celebrity cultural spokesperson who wasn’t a Kennedy. (Yeah, lots of celebs are part-Irish, but there’s a difference between being raised doing Irish dance and going to the AOH verses just knowing some great-great-great grandparent was supposed to be from there). So did Rosie sometimes say things were “Irish” things when they were really just her family (I recall cold sores and having a short upper body)? Sure, but who cares? She helped maintain the Irish reputation for being hilarious and affable, and we all owe her a Guinness for that.

Donny Osmond

T: Donny Osmond, former teen heartthrob and longtime Mormon singing icon, made a cutting joke about Rosie’s larger figure, and she got on the outs with him. In an effort to apologize, he dressed as a large puppy and sang his signature song, Puppy Love. It was obviously rude of him to make the joke, but the result is great, and I can’t say that I didn’t have a crush on him twenty years too late during this era.

M: Thanks to Rosie, I saw Donny Osmond appear at the Hill Cumorah pageant, a big Mormon to-do. Readers? I am not Mormon.

Her BFFs Jackie and Jeanie

M: When we watched Rosie as tweens, we imagined (a) that we’d be friends with our childhood besties forever and (b) if we ever got famous, they were coming with us. That’s why we loved how Rosie would bring her buddies onto her show and chat about them in the same way one might name-drop a celebrity.

Lapels

M: OK. It was a 90s thing. But the fact remains that the woman loved a pantsuit with big lapels. Do you remember those giant brooches that moms and teachers would wear back then? You NEEDED those lapels.

Her Barbie

M: Can you blame her?

T: Is that a card deck labelled “Activity Zone!”??? Because I need it.

Having A Footrest

M: Rosie’s desk had a slide-out footrest for short guests. She LOVED offering it to people, and it came in handy because a lot of Rosie’s guests were children or, for whatever reason, small adults.

When people did her desk

T: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Rosie had a contest in which different people would design her desk and it lasted maybe a week or two. Here’s one featuring a real habitrail with real hamsters. Other themes included Star Wars, Hot Wheels and an entire desk made out of Legos. As a 12 year old, this desk was #goals.