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.