Her talk show was a hit, right out of the park. Hailed by Newsweek magazine as “The Queen of Nice,” Rosie O’Donnell held court every day before millions of TV viewers. Now she’s stepping up to the plate again, this time on Broadway. And she’s got a brand new partner, with a brand new look.
Once again, Rosie O’Donnell is throwing her weight around. In midtown Manhattan last week, the former talk-show host told the gang on 45th street about her new pet project.
Rosie O’Donnell: “For me, I felt as though I had done everything that I wanted to do on the show and that it was starting to cost me more emotionally than I was getting back. And I knew that I had to rectify that situation in some way. And for me, that was taking this year and a half to be with my family, with Kelly and the kids and remember what really matters in your life. And now I feel ready and excited to come back.”
She’s back, thanks to someone you might remember: the androgynous drag queen of 80s pop, Boy George. And now, Rosie is bringing Boy George to Broadway in a new musical, with a title that’s as loaded as the singer’s closet.
O’Donnell: “Don’t be afraid. [laughter] Cause I know people have been going, ‘Taboo. Is it scary?’ It’s the same subject matter you see in ‘Rent,’ ‘Chicago,’ ‘Hairspray.’ What you love about Broadway is in this show.”
Rosie’s even got herself a fancy new title. And like so many before her, this producer is finding out what a challenge it can be dealing with a diva. Boy George even surprised Rosie when he showed up (late) for our interview in a curious get-up.
Katie Couric: “Hello, George.” [laughter]
Boy George: “Hi.”
Couric: “So, tell me a little bit about the look you’ve chosen today.” [laughter]
Boy George: “Well, the look today is based on the look of a performance artist called Leigh Bowery, who I’m playing in ‘Taboo.’ And he was somebody that kind of took all the kind of preconceived notions of fashion, and image, and distorted them beyond your wildest dreams.” [laughter]
I’ll say! Though he’s shorn the braids, lost the hat, and gained a few pounds since his Culture Club heyday, the 42-year-old Boy George still turns heads everywhere.
Boy George: “The Americans, you know, I mean, everyone in New York is — I’ve been out a couple times dressed like this. And people just go, ‘Hey, Boy George.’ I guess they’ve figured I’m the only person ridiculous enough to be looking like this.”
Though he looks more like something out of Batman than Broadway, this boy wonder has sure won over Rosie.
O’Donnell: “You know, the show in London, I saw it eight or nine times. It got a standing ovation every night.”
Rosie not only became producer — she became the sole investor, putting up $10 million of her own money.
Couric: “I mean, that’s a big financial commitment, and frankly, a big risk, isn’t it for you, personally?”
O’Donnell: “You know, Katie, truthfully, I’ve made more money than any human should make. It would not devastate me if it were to fail. But I would never in a million years put $10 million into something unless I was positive. You know, Babe Ruth, before he hit a homerun, he would point. For six years on my show when I saw a Broadway musical that was great, I would point. And I would say to everyone, ‘Hoo, hoo, that one went out.’ I saw this show. And I’m pointing. Watch it.”
She’s pointing alright. But her unabashed confidence can’t be due to Boy George’s illustrious acting experience. His only previous role was in a mid-80s episode of “The A-Team.”
O’Donnell: “Oh, well, that was Emmy nominated, wasn’t it?”
Boy George: “It was.”
Couric: “Well, when I think of Boy George, I think of ‘The A-Team,’ frankly.”
Boy George: “Yeah. I hope to blow all your preconceived notions.”
Couric: “Maybe you thought it was the Gay Team.” [laughter]
Boy George: “Oh, I think that’s generally my problem in life. I think everything’s the gay team.” [laughter]
But are Rosie and Boy George Broadway’s new dream team? Though the New York production is still only in rehearsals, the nay-sayers are already coming out of the closet.
Couric: “The press has had a field day saying that you guys are not getting along. That you’re squabbling or fighting over everything. Even little insignificant things.”
O’Donnell: “We did have one fight.”
Boy George: “Did we?”
O’Donnell: “About the glitter.”
Boy George: “No, we didn’t.”
O’Donnell: “Yes, we did!”
Boy George: “No, we didn’t!”
O’Donnell: “I prodded. We were out to dinner and George and I had some wine. And he said to me, ‘Well, you know, Rosie, when you prodded Mike.’ I was like, ‘When I what?’ ‘You prodded Mike.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he goes, ‘Poked!’ You know? When I talk to somebody, I went like this, ‘Come here, come here, listen.’ [Rosie gets up and pokes Katie] You have to compromise. You understand? We can’t have secrets like that. Apparently the touching? Very offensive to the Brits.”
Couric: “Oh really.”
Still, Rosie insists, whatever creative input she has will be entirely behind the scenes.
Couric: “Do you miss the performance aspect, though, Rosie? I mean, is there a piece of you that kind of longs to be in front of the camera again? There must be.”
O’Donnell: “There is. And there’s a part in this to play the best friend of Leigh Bowery And it’s for a large woman who has an amazing voice and is funny. Well, I’m a large—”
Couric: “You got A and C.”
O’Donnell: “Exactly. I’m a large woman with a funny personality. [laughter] But the voice— and because truthfully, part of me, Katie, wanted to do it so bad I could taste it. But I also feel I’ve been at the all-you-can-eat buffet for six years. And there’s people still at the door waiting to get in. And if I go and get more shrimp—”
Couric: “I don’t want people to take that literally.”
O’Donnell: “But it’s true. But that’s what I feel like. It’s like shame on me. And I’m just here now to frame other people’s work and the joy is tremendous.”
But there’s another reason why “Taboo” is such a labor of love. It’s about a group of people who feel disenfranchised from society, from their families, and it’s about their personal journey to self-acceptance. It’s something Rosie and George know all about.
Couric: “You both are gay. And I’m just curious how you’re feeling lately about the change in perception of gays in this country. At least it seems to a lot of observers that, you know, when you look at television you see ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,’ you see ‘Boy Meets Boy.’ Do you think that people have become more accepting?”
O’Donnell: “I do think that, you know, Ellen Degeneres when she told me years ago that she was going to come out on her show and her character come out, I remember going home and saying to Kelly, ‘Well, her career’s over. I don’t know what she’s thinking.’ And you know the truth is, she did blaze a trail. She opened the doors. She paved the way in many ways and made it that much easier when I decided to tell the truth about my family and what the laws in America say regarding my right to parent because of my sexuality... And you know, there’s been gay sitcoms forever. We just didn’t call them that. If you ask, ‘The Odd Couple,’ Felix Unger is pretty gay.”
Boy George: “Batman and Robin.”
O’Donnell: “All right. Batman and — come on. They both look good in tights. They lived in a cave.”
Naturally, Rosie says she wants audiences to walk out singing the score, but she says if they leave with a little more understanding, she’ll know she hit just the right note.
O’Donnell: “What a wonderful world it would be if we could all celebrate each other and that’s the origin of my show, my TV show. It was always the origin. And somehow I think I forgot that or I lost sight of that in some way. And I found that again. And it makes me feel very happy. ”
Before opening night, Rosie will be facing the music on another matter — that $100 million lawsuit over the shutdown of her magazine. The publishers sued her for breach of contract and Rosie sued them back. This week, a judge ruled that it will all go to trial at the end of the month. “Taboo” opens on Broadway November 13.