BWW WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Rosie O'Donnell Talks New OWN Show, NYCF at Town Hall, CURB, ANNIE, GLEE & More
Today, we are talking to the international TV icon herself - most recently having conquered Sirius satellite radio - the incomparable comedienne, actress, activist, filmmaker, producer, writer and stage performer Rosie O'Donnell. In this BWW WORLD EXCLUSIVE InDepth InterView we discuss her upcoming comedy show at Town Hall as part of the New York Comedy Festival coming up this Friday, November 4th, as well as the first news about her new daytime hour-long television discussion show on Oprah's OWN Network beginning in September of next year, plus plans for a New York art gallery showing of her art in 2011 and hopes to return to Broadway in James Lapine's thirtieth anniversary revival of the beloved musical ANNIE - making a girlhood dream come true. All this, and a top-to-bottom discussion of all things Broadway - from Rosie's Theater Kids and their self-written musical MY LIFE that just premiered at NYMF, to her own favorite shows, songs, scores, divas and Broadway performance highlights from her own talk show, to TABOO and her theories on what makes Broadway an American institution. Plus, the first news of her role on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM Season Eight! Over the course of our engaging and enlivening conversation Rosie proved she is the Queen of Nice in addition to being that unparalleled queen of Broadway patronage. See why - and much, much more - here.
Flying High, Adored
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE? THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW? THE VIEW? You don't know the half of it. Let Rosie tell you herself. She is a Broadway baby, through and through, and in no print interview to date has it ever been more evident than it will be here. Over the course of our sprawling, multi-faceted and fascinating conversation - supplementary to her very first comments on her new OWN show, the art exhibit, ANNIE, and more - Rosie also eloquently spoke about her relationships on and off-camera with everyone from Elton John to A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN co-star and BFF Madonna to Ryan Murphy (creator of NIP/TUCK and GLEE) to, most recently, re-teaming with SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE writer/director Nora Ephron and sharing the stage with Tyne Daly and Natasha Lyonne in LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE for a limited engagement Off-Broadway. Also, in the complete InDepth InterView, Rosie reveals her thoughts on the words and music and shows of Stephen Sondheim, arts education in America, the power of GLEE, what musical theatre means not only to her as a human being both now, as a mother, and, then, as a child - in addition to elaborating on the integral role theater takes in her entire family unit. Barbra Streisand to Madonna to Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone, we cover all the leading ladies as well. With this impossibly packed slate of upcoming projects coming up and all she has done for Broadway to this point, quite an epic conversation is certainly in store! You cannot help but be compelled to cheer her on with a chant of "Go Ro!" Go, she will - even farther than she has already come. The sky is the limit. Rosie O'Donnell is flying high, adored.
Be sure to stay tuned to Broadway World all week because this is just a portion of the extensive InDepth InterView coming soon! Don't miss it!
PC: Your TV show inspired an entire generation of interviewers.
RO: My TV show was created with Broadway as, definitely, one of the centerpieces. The new one on Oprah Winfrey's Network that starts in September will be more of the same.
PC: Tell me what the theme and style of your new show on Oprah's channel will be.
RO: It will be similar to her show, where it's a single topic for one hour. But, some of those one-hour, single-topics will be revolving around Broadway and Broadway shows.
PC: Fantastic! For example?
RO: So, if a new show is opening, or there's an amazing performance or if it's "Chorus Boys You Need To Know"....(Laughs.)
PC: A little of everything!
RO: Broadway will play a featured, prominent role in the television show because it is the reason I became an entertainer. It is, to me, natural Prozac. If I could go see a Broadway show every week I would never need another anti-depressant.
PC: Or sunlight!
RO: (Laughs.) Exactly!
PC: What are your fondest Broadway memories? You've spoken about PIPPIN, DREAMGIRLS and LES MIZ as being some of your favorites.
RO: LES MIZ was, I think, life-altering for me.
PC: Of course. What about as a teenager?
RO: THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG with Lucie Arnaz. I went to see that when I was like fifteen years old and I wrote her a fan letter. And she wrote me back!
PC: No way!
RO: Way! She wrote me back from the Imperial Theater on yellow stationary paper with the THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG logo. And I've kept every single letter, when she - or anyone - would write me back. I remember telling her, "I want to do what you do. I want to play this if there's ever a revival when I'm old enough. I love this show!" And, you know, that show really changed me in the fact that she was so unbearably kind and reached back.
PC: What a great memory! What else did you dig on Broadway as a kid?
RO: A CHORUS LINE. THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. I was one of those kids who would take the train in and get a ten-dollar standing room ticket. Then, I'd wait by the stage door just to see the sweaty actors come out. For me, Hollywood was vague and mysterious and far away, but Broadway was a tangible place where I could go and see living, breathing people doing what I wanted to do.
PC: You should write a book with your Broadway recollections. They are so vivid.
RO: Oh, I would, too! It would be thrilling to go back.
PC: You have done so much for the Broadway community. More than any other person on the planet, really. You are Broadway's best patron.
RO: Thank you very much. That's very nice of you. Broadway has done so much for me in my life. It has made me feel a part of something and not alone. The words of musicals were the moral codes that I lived by. I found meaning and messages in musicals that I didn't find in churches or school books and it really made me come alive in a way.
PC: Rap and musical theatre are the only two truly original American art forms.
RO: I agree.
PC: The arts needs to get more support in this country. What do you think of the state of the arts today and them not getting the financial and political support they require?
RO: Well, it's pathetic and it's tragic, I think. Culture is defined, really, by the artists who record what the everyday experience is like and then translate it to a common piece of art that all people can respond and relate to. Without art there is no hope.
PC: Art is life.
RO: It's the way kids can get out of situations that are often unbearable. It's the reason we started the Rosie's Broadway Kids - now Rosie's Theater Kids - project.
PC: Bringing art to kids.
RO: We serve underserved children. You know, kids below the poverty level, now getting to be introduced to the theatre. Kids who live on 45th Street in the tenement there at 11th Avenue who've never been to a Broadway theater and didn't think they could go.
PC: What a great service to them. They'll never forget it.
RO: The first group of kids, we brought them to see AIDA. I had two hundred tickets in my hands and there were two hundred kids. A little boy said to me, "Where do we sit?" And I said, "What about those empty seats over there?" And he said, "You mean in the velvet? We get to sit in the velvet?" I was like, "Yes. Yes, you do." That's the goal.
PC: What a wonderful story.
RO: Every kid should sit in the velvet at least once in their lifetime.
PC: Also: you brought them to AIDA, the perfect show for kids. You knew they would love theatre forever after that, right?
RO: Without a doubt! Without a doubt.
PC: Did you personally like that show? It's my favorite Elton John score.
RO: It was an amazing show. I loved that show! Sherie Rene Scott. (Pause.) Wow.
PC: She was sublime in it! And Idina replaced her!
RO: And Adam Pascal. Heather Headley. Heaven.
PC: I'm sure it cast quite a spell! It did on us, apparently!
RO: Every time that I hear the orchestra tuning up, I get chills all over my body. You know, catharsis after catharsis. It's better than sex! (Laughs.)
PC: I also loved Elton John's appearances on your TV show - and I can't wait for his Lady Gaga collaboration for the new Disney movie GNOMEO & JULIET. Can you believe there is an Elton/Gaga duet?
PC: Have you and Elton kept up your friendship over the years?
RO: Yes. He's a lovely, lovely man. Absolutely one of the kindest, most generous human beings. You know, I had that horrible lawsuit in the middle of when TABOO was just opening. It was all thrown out. I remember being in a hotel, and no one really knew where I was, and the phone rang and it was Elton John.
RO: I was like, "How did he even find me?"
PC: The Sunglasses know!
RO: He said, (Elton Voice.) "I just want to say that I heard what happened and I am thinking about you and I love you and I hope you are OK." He reaches out to everybody and I think he realizes how isolating fame can be sometimes and he is quite a genuine, generous soul.
PC: He is the first person I remember calling fame an addictive drug.
RO: Yes. That's the truth.
PC: That's of course the topic of CELEBRITY DETOX. That's one of the best books about celebrity in the modern age that has been written. Brava.
RO: Thank you so much. I'm very proud of it. You know, I think it's a hard topic to discuss because most people will say, "How could you have anything to complain about? I wish I could have that life!"
PC: Of course, they envy you.
RO: In fact, even just now, I was speaking with a Rabbi who is here with my daughter who is thirteen. We were talking about self-esteem and he said, (Rabbi Voice.) "You know, your mother is going back on TV. Do you not think she is worried about whether or not it will be successful and whether she can do what she did the last time? Your mother also has struggles with this." And she said, "How can you have self-esteem issues when millions of people love you?"
PC: Tough questions.
RO: I said, "Well, you know, honey, mass adulation from the multitudes does not penetrate your soul or your core."
PC: What a smart answer. So deep. So true.
RO: I told her, "You don't know those people out there. It's beautiful that you can reach them and touch them and that there is something that evokes some kind of a feeling of happiness in them. But, does that fill you up? No."
PC: What a illustrative way to put it to her, though.
RO: It's a hard thing for people of all ages to understand.
PC: The chaos and beauty balance seem to find its way into your art. Are you going to have a gallery show in New York soon? You must.
RO: Yes. I think so. I have a lot of new pieces. I have talked about having a show - probably when my show on the Oprah Winfrey Network premieres - we will probably have a big party and put the paintings up at the same time.
PC: Do you have a title for the art show yet? Or the OWN one?
RO: Probably "The Return". It has to be "The Return". (Laughs.)
PC: Indeed, it does! Tell me why you chose Town Hall for your show coming up this week.
RO: A friend of mine - Louis - who used to work CATCH A RISING STAR back in the 80s when we were all just hanging around waiting to get five minutes at twelve midnight - he's the one who called me. He runs the festival. I think we did Carnegie Hall two years ago with Roseanne Barr or something. I don't know. But, he said, "Listen, will you come do Town Hall with a bunch of female comics?" and I said, "Sure!" (Laughs.)
PC: All your friends!
RO: Yeah, I mean, I don't have a new act or new material. I am just going to host and a bunch of female comics are going to be up there.
PC: And that's enough!
RO: You know, women never got to work together when I was doing stand-up. It was very rare that women would be booked together. I love to be able to support other women comics, so I think it will just be a fun night. Town Hall is the venue Louis chose.
PC: What's your favorite Broadway theater to see a show in?
RO: Every time I walk into the O'Neill it's like, "Oh my God. Remember?" That was the first Broadway stage I got to stand on to do an audition [for GREASE]. There's something about being a part of Broadway and going backstage. You know, like when I go to see a show now and going backstage and saying "Hi" to the cast. It's so thrilling. It's so beyond my wildest dreams from when I was a kid.
PC: A dream come true. Made real.
RO: It's probably my favorite part of my whole showbiz experience, is Broadway. The community of Broadway. That feeling that happens every night. Being able to give that to my children - they have become, somewhat, theater experts - and they have their real strong opinions on what shows they like and don't and why.
PC: How could they not with you as their mom?!
RO: (Laughs.) I remember opening night of BILLY ELLIOT. I took my son. The part where the letter is read about the dead mother... I start to cry. But, I was watching the stage - I didn't turn to him. He reached over and held my hand. I thought, "Oh my God. When did this happen? How did I get this lucky in life?" I mean, I used to be the kid in the back trying to watch the show and now, here I am, with my grown teenage son holding my hand and crying. I don't know. It's pretty amazing.
PC: Full circle. Like life. There's a maternal vibe to musical theatre, I think.
RO: Oh, my God. Yes! I feel as though... it's like you are wrapped in everyone's arms. To be in a Broadway cast, there is nothing like that feeling. It is a family. The people that you meet and that you love doing that show become a part of your life in a way that no one else can.
PC: Tell me about doing LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Off-Broadway recently. How was it working with that cast?
RO: I loved it. I mean, Tyne Daly? C'mon! Natasha Lyonne.
PC: Tell me about working with her. I know you've become a good friend with her since the show.
RO: I had never seen anything she was in until I met her that night on the stage. I didn't really know anything about her. I saw her at rehearsal and I thought, "This is the smartest woman I've ever met!" I can't believe how smart she is! So, then I went out and rented everything that she has done. Since then we have become like the best of friends. I love her in a way that I can't even explain.
PC: That was such a delicately done and very funny play.
RO: Yeah. It really was.
PC: What has it been like sort becoming part of the Howard Stern universe on Sirius? Your interviews on his show have been absolutely incredible, and your own show is a wink to his.
RO: You know, I never really listened to radio. So, although I had heard about all the horrible things he said about me, I never really listened to him. He always scared me.
PC: Why so?
RO: He was sort of like one of those kids from high school who wear the dark T-shirts that say "Metallica" and smoke pot in the doorways. I mean, I was on the student council!
PC: Polar opposites. Or, so it seemed, at first!
RO: It was Fran Drescher who said to me, (Fran Voice.) "Really, he's brilliant, Ro. You shouldn't be afraid of him. You should give him a shot." After Kelli and I got married, he started - apparently - to like me. So, people would say to me, "Oh, he doesn't hate you anymore!" And I'd say, "What a relief! I won't have teenagers screaming ‘Baba Booey!' at me at the mall anymore!" (Laughs.)
PC: That's so funny!
RO: They used to do that! But, then I started to listen to him.
PC: Did that change your perception of him dramatically?
RO: When Howard stood up to the FCC with all of those Janet Jackson things and all of those horrifically horrible things that happened after 9/11 in terms of civil rights... I really started to fall in love with who he was and what he was about - never having really known who he was before that. Since then, I have gotten quite an education as to what he has done and who he is. It's pretty surprising, because it is the antithesis of what I perceived him to be.
PC: Leopards can change their spots, after all! Sometimes. Tell me about doing his show and the big first 90 minute interview.
RO: When I did his show, I thought, "There is one thing this man values, and that is the truth. So, no matter what he asks me, I am going to just tell him the truth." And, that seemed to be something he responded to! (Laughs.)
PC: If he's the King of All Media, you are the Queen!
RO: We get along. I mean, I think he is really the best at what he does and the best that ever was - in terms of interviewing and talk shows - and if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have my job on Sirius Radio.
PC: Do you feel Sirius is where you feel most at home? Freest?
RO: It's the most authentic medium, without a doubt.
PC: People are more open on the phone - or on the radio - as opposed to in person, I have found.
RO: Well, it's ‘cause you worry. You start to visualize and think, "What does it mean? How am I sitting? Is he looking at my fat? Shouldn't I have worn that other thing?" You know, you have a whole series of other things going on during the interview.
PC: The visual component.
RO: The hope for me going back into television - after doing what will have been two years of radio - is to bring that authenticity with me. And, to not have the visual be overpowering the content.
PC: Everything on TV is soundbytes nowadays. You fought that everyday on THE VIEW when you hosted it.
RO: If you build it, they will come. That's what I say.
PC: Sometimes you don't know what you want until you have it - or someone else does.
RO: You know, when my show started it was all Jerry Springer and beating people up. They said, "You cannot do MERV GRIFFIN!" and I said, "Yeah, you can." So, I have a feeling that when you bring something else - something new - they will show up to see it.
PC: Are you a Gleek? How can you not be?
RO: Best show on TV.
PC: By far. THE ROCKY HORROR GLEE SHOW?
RO: The whole thing. All of them. It's really the best show on TV.
PC: Entertaining - and enlightening, too. They are addressing real issues on that show - body image, homosexuality, divorce, et cetera..
RO: Yes. Yes. Everything they address is done so well.
PC: Tell me about working with Ryan Murphy in the past.
RO: Ryan Murphy is a genius. I got to know him doing NIP/TUCK. Also, Brad Falchuk. They are two of the most epically talented people in show business. I am just proud to know them.
PC: What does GLEE mean to you?
RO: I watch that show every Tuesday with my kids. It's like a family date night. I love it. The conversations that happen as a result of it are meaningful and poignant. I think that they are helping change society in real and tangible ways every week - one hour, every week - by doing that show.
PC: It seems out-of-touch for Katie Couric and others to call that recent GQ shoot pornographic. The whole hubbub around that is absurd.
RO: Yeah, I know, "C'mon, get over it!" I mean, these are twenty-something-year-old kids. They can do what they want. They are playing TV characters and this is 2010.
PC: Exactly. Grow up, right?
RO: "On we go. Let's move forward." I wouldn't even waste time talking about it on the radio. They were like, "Do you wanna talk about the GLEE photo shoot?", I said, "No, I don't!" I said that because I know Lea Michele and she is old enough - she is a sexual woman - and she is not a teenage high school student!
PC: Precisely. TV is not real life - at least not with GLEE.
RO: You should be able to make the differentiation in your mind.
PC: Many can't - or won't.
RO: You should be able to tell your child, "This is an actor. And she's older than Mommy!" (Laughs.)
PC: For real!
RO: It's ridiculous.
PC: Plus, five years ago, when Lea was doing SPRING AWAKENING with a topless scene eight times a week on Broadway, it was no big deal. What if that was on GLEE?!
RO: Right! Exactly. They practically had sex on a swing in SPRING AWAKENING! Let's all relax.
PC: Rosie's Theater Kids just premiered MY LIFE at the New York Musical Theater Festival. Tell me about that original show.
RO: Yeah, that's a great show. The kids wrote stories about their lives and put it all together. It's a little bit like RENT but for real-life high school kids. It's a beautiful show. They did a wonderful job. I think it's something high schools should do all over the country.
PC: Baz Luhrmann just did this column as part of the NYMF. Aren't you a big fan of his? MOULIN ROUGE?
RO: Uh, yes! My favorite movie next to SOUND OF MUSIC!
PC: Julie Andrews just did this column recently, too.
RO: The nicest woman.
PC: Tell me about doing the OPRAH SOUND OF MUSIC reunion show yesterday.
RO: Well, I didn't get to see the final one - I have it on Tivo. But, you know, they called and said to me, "Hey, we're doing a show on THE SOUND OF MUSIC. We know it's your favorite movie." I go, "I know every line! Every word! I could recite the entire movie for you right now!"
PC: Broadway baby, in the blood! So, that's how they approached you to do the special?
RO: They said, "Could you just sit and talk to us about what it meant to you in your life?" And, so I did. I don't know how much of it aired...
PC: A lot. It was such a touching story. Tell me what you said that might not have made the cut.
RO: It was really, to me, life-defining, that movie. I try to explain it to my children. I say, "Do you realize when I was a kid you had to see this at the movie theater or, if you were lucky, once a year at Christmas they would play it on TV?"
PC: It's true!
RO: Actually, there was one year (Announcer Voice.), "THE SOUND OF MUSIC to be seen in its entirety on ABC!" And they played the movie and they had cut out two scenes!
PC: Oh, no!
RO: We called the studio! In 1975, we called ABC. Kids. "We just would like to lodge a formal complaint to say that THE SOUND OF MUSIC was not shown in its entirety!"
PC: They cut out the Baroness or something, I bet.
RO: When I tell my kids this, they say, "What do you mean? You were too poor to have a DVD?" and I go, "There were no DVDs. There weren't even VCRs!" And they say, "What is that?" And I say, "Well, you know those big tapes they used to have...." They can't even wrap their heads around it!
PC: Have you kept in touch with Madonna? You were so close.
RO: Yeah, yeah. She's doing well. She's in England and directing and she's got her kids and her life. And so do I. But, we keep in touch via e-mail and the phone and I now love her and always will. She's like a sister. She's a great person.
PC: What's next on Broadway for you?
RO: Listen, I've been begging: I want to play Miss Hannigan in ANNIE.
PC: You really do?
RO: Yes. In 2012. I don't know if I have the talent, I don't know if I've got the time, and I don't know if they have the desire, but - I am telling you right now - I want to do it.
PC: James Lapine is directing it!
RO: I've heard! Believe me! And, Darryl Roth is producing! If the gods are with me - and the stars align - that would be beyond a dream come true.
PC: I've always wanted to know: what do you think of Stephen Sondheim?
RO: Living legend. Epic. Genius. No one better.
PC: So I take it you are a Sondheim fan?
RO: How do you do better than he did first time out: WEST SIDE STORY?
PC: In his twenties!
RO: C'mon! Come on! I mean... what else can you say? The guy is...
PC: The master.
RO: Every time I would put a new musical on my show I would think, "There's a little Stephen Sondheim somewhere out there, in Iowa or something, who is eight years old watching this and he is going to grow up to write WEST SIDE STORY."
PC: Your show did do that. You are a hero for doing that.
RO: Thank you for saying so.
PC: Please bring back JaHeRo to your OWN show!
RO: (Laughs.) It only works if it's real! So, if the three of us are doing the show again we will put it back up!
PC: My favorite part of THE VIEW were your JaHeRo videos.
RO: Please, the best part of THE VIEW was all the stuff in the dressing room! (Laughs.)
PC: Has Ryan Murphy asked you to be on GLEE?
RO: Yeah, we've talked a little bit. Truthfully, it's such a show that we watch as a family and do together, that I don't want my celebrity to come in and ruin it.
PC: How selfless of you!
RO: Yeah, I mean, we went to the concert and we got to meet all the characters. It's perfect as it is. I love to be one of the millions of people who sit home and watch it. I love that he gives Broadway people who are not really known the attention they deserve. I'm perfectly happy to be the biggest fan of the show and not actually be on it.
PC: It would stymie the family experience of it for you.
RO: Yeah, I mean, we watch it as a family and it's the only show we've ever done from the beginning like that and I would hate to ruin that.
PC: Will you be returning to CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM this season? You just have to!
RO: Oh, I did. I just filmed it!
PC: What's the plot?
RO: Larry and I are both hitting on the same girl during the episode!
PC: How hilarious! Have you had any scenes with Cheyenne Jackson?
RO: No, nothing with him. But, I love him and he's a super-talented kid.
PC: You are amazing, this has been amazing. Thank you.
RO: Thank you! I really appreciate it. This was cool. Bye bye.