Rosie O'Donnell Reflects on the Healing Power of 'Hamilton,' Which She's Seen 15 Times
O'Donnell tells THR of her ticket strategy, job-securing run-in and political suggestion: "Every single presidential candidate should be required to see this show twice a week until they finally get it."
Ahead of the Tony Awards, where 'Hamilton' has garnered a record 16 nominations, one of the show's most frequent attendees Rosie O'Donnell reflects on how Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical has impacted her life, including helping her land a sitcom guest spot and heal from last year's incidents with her daughter. The following is an edited version of her conversation with THR.
Hamilton is medicine that I need for my soul. It is vital to me; it feels like going to church. I told my therapist, "If I could see it once a week, I wouldn't need medication." I've seen it fifteen times. Mariska Hargitay is a close second, she loves it like I do. I have eight of the original hoodies that they don't make anymore, and every time I walk in, there's one usher who always goes, "Rosie, red wine?"
I first saw it at The Public, before it was in The New York Times or anything. Sheila Nevins invited me. I remember sitting there after the first number, blown away. I looked at her and she said, "Do you think the whole thing is gonna be rap?!"
There's not an inauthentic moment in the entire show. I couldn't believe it, and I'm a kid who grew up in musical theater's heyday of A Chorus Line and I've pretty much seen every musical since the '70s. My favorite show before was Les Mis, but this elevates musical theater to another level. I was transported. There's not one moment where you think, "They could've cut that." I was sobbing through it, especially toward the end when they sing about forgiveness. Afterwards I just couldn't stop crying. Renee [Elise Goldsberry] just kept hugging me. The interesting thing is sobbing didn't seem to be an abnormal reaction.
The soundtrack wasn't out yet. The only thing was when Lin performed at the White House in 2008. I went home and listened to that over and over again, and then I went back [to The Public] two days later. I said, "If there's ever an empty seat, please call me," and I gave my number to the box office. "I will come anytime. I will stand in the back." Then it started getting all the accolades and it became harder and harder.
I've taken each of my kids to see it, and I'll say to people I have very close relationships with, "Have you seen it yet? No? Can I take you?" I've been by myself three times, and I'm always crying when I go backstage. People ask me, "How do you get tickets?" I usually go on Charitybuzz and donate to whatever charity and pay whatever price. When things are very difficult emotionally, I go to StubHub and look up day-of [tickets]. Some days when I'm in the city in the afternoon, I'll stick my head in the box office and go, "Hey, got a single?" People have told me it's unfair — I'm like, "Listen, if you want to donate to this cause and you have the ability, go and outbid me!"
[I see celebrities] every time; it's like a who's who. Chuck Lorre was sitting next to me, and I told my son, "This guy made your favorite show!" It turns out that my son's love of The Big Bang Theory and my love of Hamilton got me a guest spot on Mom!
Musical theater charts my emotional life — when things happen, it's the lyrics to Broadway shows that come to mind. When I was sued by a magazine, when I was testifying, it's the Jean Valjean lyrics [of Les Mis] that would go through my head. Now, when things happen, Hamilton is the score to my emotional world. "In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet, for just a moment, a yellow sky." For me, the show has been a yellow sky, in the midst of the chaos. That respite.
It's a religious experience, a spiritual cleansing in a way. I had been going through a lot with my daughter [Chelsea], and my therapist said, "You come in three times a week to discuss this, but where are your tears?" I said to her, "They're at the Richard Rodgers Theatre." It's such a release of everything, every feeling of every intense moment of life is represented, and in many different variations and from many different perspectives. The person who wounds and the person who forgives; the person who lives and the person who dies.
And the truly multiracial casting — that alone is enough reason for it to be beyond anything you've ever seen anywhere. I remember the controversy of Miss Saigon and who's going to play the role and whether there were people of color. And here is a true representation of America — what a beautiful thing to have Chris [Jackson], this huge, strapping, gorgeous multiracial man, as George Washington! The subtleties of all we want America to be is present in that show. Every single presidential candidate should be required to see this show twice a week until they finally get it, and we can all move on as a country, right?
It is the perfect casting. I told the actors, "You're like the original Chorus Line cast to this generation." I don’t even know if they get it. Nobody really got applause breaks in the first few months. Now, when Lin comes out, it's like at the Grammys — he can't even start! They go insane, like for a rock star. It's so deserved; it's as if Stephen Sondheim were also able to perform in all of the amazing works he created. Everyone knew he was a genius from In the Heights, but now, I'm like, "This is the guy who took a hammer and chisel and made the statue of David, and I am the one who gets to look at it." I just got into the museum before most people did; I am simply somebody who was lucky enough to walk in and see it at the very beginning. My god, what a gift that's been.
It is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen in my life on a stage, from start to finish. The only person I know who was even mildly disappointed is my son Blake, and that's because I've made him see it three times. So whenever he wants a new pair of sneakers that are absurdly expensive, I say to him, "Okay, we'll go into the city and go to the Flight Club store, but we're gonna go see Hamilton afterwards." He's like, "Mom!!!" Seriously, Blake, you're the only person in America who would ever react like that.