When 71-year-old Helen came on stage to play “The Price Is Right Live!” in Butte, Montana, the retired postal worker had never been on an airplane before. In fact, she had never been outside her hometown.
Trembling slightly, “She took my hand and played Any Number,” a game in which contestants call out digits that appear on a board, host Todd Newton recalled, treasuring the memory. Helen won a four-night trip to Las Vegas for two.
“It was so special to me to see the look on her face,” Newton said, adding that he’s seen the same ecstatic expression on the faces of countless other contestants. “We’ve had a lot of Helens over the years.”
Modeled after the popular CBS game show “The Price Is Right,” “The Price Is Right Live!” stage show invites audience members to “Come on down!” to play classic games such as Plinko and The Big Wheel for prizes including cash, appliances, vacations and cars. It comes to the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo on Friday.
“The similarities between the television show and the live show are endless,” said Newton, who’s hosted “The Price Is Right Live!” from the beginning. “It’s the same games and the same music and the same energy that they’ve been watching in their living rooms for 45 years.”
Newton, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, counts himself among “The Price Is Right’s” many fans.
“My grandmother introduced me to Bob Barker in the daytime and Johnny Carson at night. Those were the two guys who turned me on to this industry,” Newton explained. “Here were two men who were entertaining millions of people just by being themselves. I thought that would be a good way to make a living.”
Newton was hosting another game show, “Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck,” when he was tapped to host “The Price Is Right Live!” 15 years ago. (He’s also hosted “Family Game Night” and provided red-carpet commentary for E!)
According to Newton, the stage version of “The Price Is Right” got its start in a tiny showroom in Reno, Nevada. It next headed to Atlantic City, New Jersey, then Las Vegas, before going on the road.
“The Price Is Right Live!” now does 100 to 150 shows a year in the United States and Canada, touring in the spring and fall.
“Every year it just gets bigger and better and more exciting, and certainly more fun for me,” Newton said. “No two shows will ever be the same because no two audiences are ever going to be the same.”
Although “The Price Is Right Live!” features the same games, glamorous models and colorful set as the televised game show, it does have some significant differences.
Most notably, the stage show isn’t recorded or broadcasted. It isn’t limited to an hour, and there are no commercial breaks. “It’s in your face from the moment we start,” Newton said.
Would-be contestants can register as early as three hours before the show, and are chosen at random right before it starts. Then they have a chance to compete for prizes with their friends and family members cheering them on.
Asked if he has what it takes to be a contestant, Newton chuckled.
“If I could keep my excitement in check … I might walk away with a kitchen appliance,” he quipped. “I do tend to get a little over-excited.”
So do the audience members, he added.
“I think I’ve been picked up and spun around and kissed on the cheek and the mouth and the forehead and the nose more than just about any game show host in history,” said Newton, who relishes giving out prizes. “It’s like being Santa Claus 365 days a year.”