Rosie O'Donnell once again demonstrated her love for the Broadway theatre by devoting her final show to the stars and shows that work on The Great White Way.
The last live broadcast of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" began with a pre taped segment featuring the Emmy Award-winning talk-show host singing a portion of the Broadway anthem "Give My Regards to Broadway" in Times Square. The camera then panned to performers from several Broadway shows — Thoroughly Modern Millie, 42nd Street, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Beauty and the Beast and The Producers — singing new lyrics to songs from each of their musicals, outside their respective theatres.
The daytime talkfest then went live to the NBC studio where "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" is filmed. O'Donnell barged through the show's theatrical curtain for the last time. Stars of a handful of currently running Broadway shows joined the theatre maven for a production number featuring rewritten lyrics to Jerry Herman's "Hello, Dolly!" Among the stars spotted were John Lithgow (Sweet Smell of Success), Vanessa Williams with her cow (Into the Woods), Brian d'Arcy James (Sweet Smell of Success), Manley Pope (Rent), Josefina Gabrielle (Oklahoma!), Alan Campbell (Contact) and singer-dancers from Aida, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Into the Woods, 42nd Street, Cabaret and Mamma Mia!.
"For the last time, say hello to John McD," O'Donnell said after the first commercial break and then proceeded to announce what gifts — a daily tradition — today's audience members would receive.
Throughout its six years, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" was always a mix of celebrity guests, musical performances from the worlds of Broadway and pop, as well as human interest stories that often brought the host to tears. Two Broadway stars were hand-picked by O'Donnell to be the last guests of her six-year reign: Tony winners Nathan Lane, who recently ended his run in The Producers, and Christine Ebersole, who currently stars in the hit revival of 42nd Street. Lane, who O'Donnell called "the funniest man who ever lived," came onstage and announced, "This is the biggest, gayest celebration since Liza's wedding." Lane offered a few theatrical anecdotes (joking that "this should bring a ratings bonanza") and congratulated O'Donnell on her "incredible run . . . all your charitable work and all you've done for Broadway."
At one point Lane quipped, "Oh, look. It's Henry Goodman, and he's got a gun," referring to the British actor who replaced him in, and was recently fired from, The Producers.
Christine Ebersole, whom O'Donnell referred to as "my friend and Tony winner," offered a stirring rendition of the classic Rodgers and Hart ballad "My Funny Valentine" that was prefaced by these words, "Rosie, you're one of the best friends a person could have. You're my sister, and I love you."
O'Donnell concluded her program with a montage of favorite moments that were set to a rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." Appearances by such celebrities as Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Betty Buckley, Tom Cruise, Cher, Liza Minnelli and Martin Short were interspersed with photos of O'Donnell's children, her girlfriend, several human interest stories as well as footage of New York City, including the remnants of the World Trade Center and a photo shrine to the victims of September 11.
O'Donnell's staff surrounded the star for the show's remaining moments, which included thank-yous from O'Donnell and band leader-musical director John McDaniel, who told O'Donnell, "[I'll] see you on Broadway." The program concluded with a clip of film star Tom Cruise — one of the host's favorite performers — mowing O'Donnell's lawn and offering her a glass of lemonade, a scenario O'Donnell often dreamed would happen.
The Broadway community will certainly mourn the loss of O'Donnell's program, which has provided one of the very few television outlets to promote the musical theatre. The comedian-host championed several musicals throughout her six years including Titanic and The Lion King, which both went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical; and Seussical, the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical in which she later starred for a limited engagement. Disney's The Lion King announced this week that two seats in its New Amsterdam Theatre will now bear a plaque that reads "This seat honors and thanks Rosie O’Donnell."
Chris Boneau, who with Adrian Bryan-Brown heads one of Broadway's largest press agencies, Boneau/Bryan-Brown, told Playbill On-Line, "If you don't live in New York and don't get a chance to see a lot of Broadway shows, [Rosie O'Donnell] provided a way for people across America to be exposed to Broadway. She probably was Broadway's biggest supporter for a very long time. The fact that she had Broadway shows on regularly to perform and also be guests was huge. I don't think anyone can quantify how important that was. She put a real face on it for us —and also just showing up at opening nights and genuinely loving the theatre. She was Broadway's biggest fan.
"You always worry," Boneau continued, "when somebody comes along and treats you that way, because you're afraid you'll never get it again, and I think we all have that sense of who's going to do that for us in a world where Broadway gets so little [coverage] now . . . You could always count on her. Her countdown to the Tonys every year, we relied on that. We're all very appreciative of the stuff she did . . . Today was thrilling for everyone involved. It was a lot of work, but it was thrilling. It's a shame [that the show is ending], but we all wish her well."
O'Donnell's final week began May 20 with an episode dubbed "Rosie Unplugged," which featured the former star of Broadway's Grease! looking back at her favorite moments of the show's run. Tuesday's program included chats with a "superkid" as well as interviews with "Today Show" co host Katie Couric and singer Marc Anthony. Previously taped but unaired episodes of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" will continue to air through June 27, and reruns of the acclaimed talkfest will air in July and August.
Actress Caroline Rhea, who has hosted O'Donnell's show numerous times, will officially take over as host come September, although the show's time slot for "The Caroline Rhea Show" has yet to be announced.
—By Andrew Gans