Munro: Insights to 'Price is Right' onstage

The Fresno BeeSeptember 21, 2013 

First shirt spotted in lobby of Saroyan Theatre before show begins: green tank top proclaiming "All This Can Be Yours if the Price is Right."

Second (and third and fourth) shirt spotted: several more tank tops with same message, all worn by a group of happy but determined young women who look as if they might trample me if I get in the way when they're told to "Come on down."

First thing I learn Wednesday night while attending "The Price is Right Stage Show": Goofy T-shirts are always funnier when they travel in packs.

My own "Price" credentials: slim to none. I remember catching the show when staying home sick as a kid from school, so my recollections of Bob Barker and whirling-dervish fans attacking him with kisses are tinted through memories of stuffed-up noses, aching throats and tomato soup with Ritz crackers. I actually associate the sound of the show's "you're wrong" buzzer with streptococcus.

My research beforehand: I memorize the manufacturer's suggested retail price for a DeLonghi Nescafe Dolce Gusto Genio Coffeemaker. For some reason, I am convinced that if I know it sells for $229.99, it will be the key to riches and happiness.

Mood in theater before show begins: tailgate party without the pesky football game to watch after. The smell of popcorn and alcoholic beverages wafts through the Saroyan. Not a sportcoat or evening dress in sight, like at the opera. Woman in front of me is wearing a red tank top that says "Pick me." People are excited. We all shop, after all, and this is like a big consumerist church service, with us eager to demonstrate our doctrinal knowledge. Big monitors play reruns of old "Price is Right" episodes, including clips showing Barker over the years turning gray before our eyes. All that high-pitched screaming in your ears will do that to you.

The show begins: The announcer pumps up the crowd, which is flying high (and no doubt dreaming of taking home a handsome bedroom set) even without his help. Then he introduces the host, Todd Newton. This is the first time I've ever seen anyone's Daytime Emmy award acceptance speech played before arrival on stage. Newton is genial enough, but, let's face it: Unless the 89-year-old Barker himself is wheeled into the Saroyan, people aren't really going to care who's hosting. They just want to get up there and spin the wheel.

Come on down: First four contestants picked from audience. Whoops, hollers, general merriment. The first game is the quaint Cliffhanger, a "TPIR" greatest hit, in which you have to guess the price of three products before falling off a cliff. The first contestant, Scott, plunges off, or at least the little yodeling mountain climber resembling him, does. Not an auspicious start.

Best contestant: Camille, wearing a bright pink T-shirt and jeans, gets to drag her screaming mother, Elena — dressed the same — onstage.

The winners: For all the hype about riches to come, what strikes me about the stage show is how little in terms of prizes actually gets dispersed to the audience. To put it bluntly, Fresno does not do very well. Sure, a few hundred dollars won here or there, but big-time prizes? No. That hurtful buzzer keeps rearing its ugly sound.

The showcase round: A woman named Virginia sitting right by me is called from the audience, and she gets to play for a Nissan Sentra. Given five scrambled numbers, she guesses that it retails for $86,000. The actual price: $17,000. (I guess $31,000. Hey, this is hard.)

The ending: oddly subdued. This is why game shows make uneven theater. In a musical, the big finale would leave everyone on an up note. Here, if an audience member doesn't go home with a car, it's a letdown.

My take: Ho-hum. My favorite part was actually before the show began, when people reveled in the possibility of getting picked. And what happened to my DeLonghi Nescafe Dolce Gusto Genio Coffeemaker? Oh well. At least I don't walk out with a sore throat.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at

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