According to Michael Kantor in the documentary Broadway: The American Musical, Ed Sullivan and his The Ed Sullivan Show played a significant role in the Golden Age of Broadway, broadcasting Broadway shows and Broadway performers to the entire country. This was the time when Original Broadway Cast Recordings made the regular pop record charts, and Ed Sullivan gave American a glimpse into what was in their record stores and what could be coming on tour.
I think Rosie O’Donnell—think of her what you may for her bullying nature—has not received adequate ovation for what she’s done for the Broadway musical in our time. It was the 1990s when Broadway began to regain stature, when people became interested in investing in Broadway again, when you started to hear about Broadway outside of New York City. No doubt in my mind, Rosie O’Donnell had a significant role in that rise to prominence. Her show was extremely successful, and she was actively seeking to promote Broadway shows. Where else could the average American turn on a television and have the excitement of Broadway shoved in their faces?
And she used her show as a venue to promote Broadway shows and performers. Much of what appears on BlueGobo, for example, are from performances from The Rosie O’Donnell show, performances that would otherwise have disappeared into the ether. I admire greatly what she did for Seussical, which I saw on tour and enjoyed immensely. While the show was never a hit, her bright spotlight no doubt did something for that show, not to mention her own run as the Cat in the Hat.
People have also forgotten what she did for the Tony Awards. For the few years while she was a producer, my memory is that the ratings were up. She jazzed up the show with entertaining opening numbers, and she used her own name to draw attention to the ceremony. Plus, those few years where the first hour was broadcast on PBS were fantastic because of all the show footage and the educational nature of the behind-the-scenes interviews they aired. I can’t tell you how much I learned from the PBS hour, and I also used those tapes in my classroom to positive effect.
The one the fries me the most is how people responded to her producing effort on Taboo. Face it, anyone reading this would trade their entire Stephen Sondheim CD collection to produce their own Broadway show. Just look at dream casting threads on the message boards and watch us all drool with the daydream of power.
Not to mention, how many times do we hear that there are no more real producers, there are fourteen names above the title, no one has any vision. I think people attacked Rosie O’Donnell because she was a woman. If Regis Philbin had produced a Broadway show, he wouldn’t have gotten flack. But because it was Rosie O’Donnell, my gosh, who does she think she is.
I never saw Taboo. Had I been in New York, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. I don’t really care enough about Boy George to spend $100 on a show about him; he was before my time. But I so admire Rosie O’Donnell for her moxie in doing what she did. She found a show about something that made her excited. She fixed it up the way she thought was best. And she put her money where her mouth was. Personally, if I had the money, I’d produce a Jane Eyre revival staring Marla Schaffel and Chuck Wagner and keep it open for a year just because I’d want to see it weekly, maybe even daily. You bet I’d lose my shirt—and probably my pants, my shoes, and my hat—but it’d be so worth it. And don’t tell me most of the people reading this wouldn’t do the exact same thing.
And because she sank her own money into that show and kept it open longer than other producers would have, think of all the actors she employed for a couple extra months. That’s a major deal. There are 17,000 Equity actors in New York, and because of Rosie O’Donnell, some twenty-five of them (or however many there were in the show) had employment for a few extra months.
And if this wasn’t gracious enough, O’Donnell has supported other Broadway shows by investing. We know for sure that she was an investor on Grey Gardens, and I have a feeling she’s been an angel on many other shows than that.
We also can’t forget her work on The View, where she immediately used her pull to bring in Broadway shows. Yes, there was a lot of drama on the show, but when people started tuning in in droves, they saw The Drowsy Chaperone, A Chorus Line, The Color Purple, and a host of other musicals and performers.
This is not, by any means, a complete love letter to Rosie O’Donnell in all areas of her personality. I felt her inability to respectfully acknowledge that Elizabeth Hasselbeck (or Tom Selleck or anyone with a different political opinion than hers) can have a differing viewpoint and still be worthy of the same oxygen she breaths is a textbook case of what’s wrong with politics and political debate in our country, which depends far too much on blacks and whites instead of grays and bullying and railroading instead of logical argument.
But anyway, Rosie O’Donnell has done so much for the Broadway community in addition to the various roles she’s taken on stage. People on the message boards have used her success and a springboard to attack rather than to acknowledge all the great she has done for our beloved art form.
I just hope when, in fifty years, a new documentary is produced about Broadway: The American Musical, that Rosie O’Donnell’s invaluable contribution to our era of Broadway is not only remembered but rightfully applauded.
Rosie, I thank you.
the Broadway Mouth
September 1, 2007