One might think John McDaniel would want some time off after completing six years as the music director and band leader for the Emmy-winning "Rosie O'Donnell Show," but the accomplished musician told Playbill On-Line May 24 that along with some swimming and barbecuing he'll be working on several new projects.
First up for the Grammy-winning McDaniel is a workshop of a new musical by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson that he is producing with Jeff Calhoun and Schoenfeld. Simply titled Brooklyn, the musical that McDaniel describes as an "urban fairy tale" will have an August workshop that will lead to two workshop performances on Sept. 12 and 13 at New York's Signature Theatre.
Jeff Calhoun — who choreographed and directed the 1994 Grease! revival that McDaniel musical directed — approached McDaniel about the piece last year, and soon after, composer Schoenfeld played through the score at McDaniel's loft. "I really flipped," McDaniel said, "and I knew I wanted to be on board. Over the next few days, I started thinking I really wanted to produce this, because I really believe in it, so Jeff and I decided to produce it together along with Mark . . . It's a five-character musical [that] takes place on a dilapidated street corner in Brooklyn," McDaniel added, "and these street performers tell the story. The music is out of this world — it's very funky, soul, R&B kind of music."
Not only a co-producer, McDaniel will also serve as the show's music supervisor, and casting is currently underway for the workshop of the 90-minute, intermissionless, "socially conscious" piece.
McDaniel, who has recorded three solo CDs, will also team up with Rosie O'Donnell to work on a new "play with music" based on O'Donnell's best-selling book, "Find Me." About his former boss, McDaniel commented, "She's so wildly talented in so many ways, and how she expresses herself [in the book] is so unique, and it's a great story." The play, he explained, will be a two-character piece starring O'Donnell and an actress who has yet to be cast. "The other actress will play the smaller parts and will do the majority of the singing," McDaniel revealed, "since, as Ro says, 'At 90 dollars a seat, you don't want to just hear me sing.' [Laughs.] But it's going to be fun. I'm creating it, collaborating on it with her . . . We've explored a lot of different directions, [but we] don't know exactly where it will wind up, but it's a fun process." When asked about the time frame for the mounting of the work, McDaniel said, "We had initially shot for the fall, but I think that was just too much pressure too soon. It could be the spring, or possibly the following fall."
McDaniel received a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show (Producer) for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and also garnered four Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for that same talkfest.
When asked about his favorite moments or memories from the show's six-year run, the St. Louis native said, "I think the daily chat with [Rosie] was my very favorite aspect of it. I loved the music, and I loved getting to know Barry Manilow and Bette Midler and Chaka Khan and Dick Van Dyke and everybody who we worked with over the years. That was really, really cool. But I think my favorite part of the show was always the first ten minutes. We never rehearsed anything, never rehearsed those songs. Obviously, we never rehearsed those songs! [Laughs.] Sometimes we'd have an idea of what we would talk about, and then it would change, and we'd start talking about something else. That's the thing I'm going to miss the most. I'm also going to miss seeing her every day. The entire studio, all the grips, the audio guys, my band. I got so close with my band over the six years. They're just tremendous people." McDaniel also recalled the broadcast that featured his mom — his first piano teacher — playing with the "Rosie" band. "It was the day after The Lion King opened," he said. "We had gone to see the show together. She was my date, and it was one of the biggest red carpets ever for a Broadway show. And all the paparazzi were like, "John! . . . Mom!," and she felt like a star."
Although he's still in a bit of a "Rosie fog," McDaniel said that the end of the show feels "fantastic, exhilarating. It's definitely a little sad, but mostly I feel [a sense of] accomplishment. I feel like we really did it. We did it to the nth degree, and we did it to the very end." O'Donnell and McDaniel fans all over the country couldn't agree more — the show's final broadcast brought in the program's biggest ratings of the season.
—By Andrew Gans