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What Oprah does for books, Rosie does for Broadway

Rosie O'Donnell
June 6, 1998
Web posted at: 10:15 p.m. EDT (0215 GMT)

From Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Rosie O'Donnell will be behind the microphone again Sunday night for the 52nd annual Tony Awards show, and the popular talk show host hopes to top last year's record ratings that she helped generate.

"Well, I would love to top last year's ratings, but you know, the good thing is since they were so successful last year, we're guaranteed to be on the air for a long time on CBS," she said.

"And this year, I think, they're going to get higher ratings because [of] "Ragtime" and "Lion King" -- they're such hugely successful shows that people are going to tune in."

But O'Donnell does more than simply host the Tonys. She has used her daily talk show to plug Broadway shows and has sent Broadway's popularity soaring.

CNN's Cynthia Tornquist reports
icon 2 min., 04 sec. VXtreme video

O'Donnell called the musical "The Lion King" "the best show I've ever seen" on her show, and ticket sales went through the roof. Ticket sales for the musical "Titanic" doubled after O'Donnell plugged it.

What Oprah Winfrey does for books on her show, O'Donnell does for Broadway.

"You cannot underestimate the significance, the impact that her words have on the audience," Tony nominee Douglas Sills said.

"Mostly she makes it fun. So, suddenly, going to the theater doesn't seem like it's going to be some long, painful experience," added Tony nominee Anthony LaPaglia.

'A little piece of Broadway'

Lion King
"The Lion King" on Broadway  

O'Donnell said she loved the theater as a child and remembers seeing Broadway shows on the talk shows of her youth, like "The Mike Douglas Show" and "The Merv Griffin Show."

Today, O'Donnell said those type of venues don't exist so she wanted to provide a forum on her talk show.

That attitude makes her a natural to host the Tonys.

"I always think the people in the middle of the country who don't have access to Broadway, when they watch the Tonys, they get a little piece of Broadway," she said.

O'Donnell also reaches the audience that goes to see Broadway shows. Ten years ago, more than half of Broadway's audience were New Yorkers. But the majority of today's audiences are from outside New York and are more likely to see O'Donnell's show than read a review by a New York critic.

"I think the average person going to see a Broadway musical wants to know if they're going to have an entertaining two-and-a-half hours, and sometimes theater critics are looking for things the average person doesn't see ... so I don't always think the critics know best," she said.

Asked if she wanted to return to the Broadway stage herself, O'Donnell said she was unsure.

"You know, I do and I don't," she said. "I would do it for probably a three-month, limited run. But the fact is, I don't have the discipline that it takes to be a Broadway performer."

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