It has to be part of Americana and part of the culture. We just didn't want to disenfranchise people and have them say, 'OK, I've never seen that. I don't care about this whole category' and turn away. —Rocky Schmidt, supervising producer
NEW YORK — Answer: It's the TV show that's spreading the word about Broadway. Question: What is "Jeopardy!"
The hit syndicated game show hosted by Alex Trebek has always sprinkled in theater clues since its debut in 1984 but lately has been upping the ante.
For the 10th anniversary of "Wicked" late last month, the TV show took the unprecedented step of having an entire category dedicated to the musical, and producers are doing it again on Tuesday for "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."
"Certain shows lend themselves better for us to do this," says Rocky Schmidt, the supervising producer of the game show. "The real trick to this is making it accessible to the millions of 'Jeopardy!' viewers. If you haven't seen the show, is it still interesting to you?"
The TV show taped the clues with Cinderella herself — star Laura Osnes did a video clue in her ball gown costume — on June 14 at the show's home at the Broadway Theatre. The actual contest was taped in September.
"I think it's great exposure for the show," says Osnes, a Tony Award-nominated actress who grew up watching "Jeopardy!" in Minnesota but admits to being a bigger fan of "The Price Is Right."
"I'm not very good at it, I think that's why. I don't know a lot of that type of trivia," Osnes says. "I enjoy doing things I'm good at and I knew I wasn't very good at 'Jeopardy!" This time, though, Osnes knew she wouldn't be stumped: "I definitely knew the answers," she says.
"Jeopardy!" has long given Broadway a boost, offering such categories as "Broadway Musicals" and "Pop Singers on Broadway." That's priceless publicity for stage shows since "Jeopardy!" is seen by 10 million people a night. Last year, attendance on Broadway reached just 11.6 million.
The Clue Crew, the show's telegenic correspondents who travel the country taping clues in site-specific locations, have visited more than a dozen Broadway sets, including "Avenue Q," ''The Phantom of the Opera," ''Les Miserables," ''The Producers," ''Hairspray," and "The Lion King."
Actors from Broadway shows have also presented clues, including from "Mamma Mia!" ''Jersey Boys" and "The Color Purple." Playwright Edward Albee and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber even had their own five-question categories.
But, until now, an entire category hasn't been devoted to a single show. For it to happen, the show has to be able to spark questions beyond the stage. Questions for "Wicked" naturally led to ones for "The Wizard of Oz" movie and book, while "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" has a rich history to draw questions.
"It has to be part of Americana and part of the culture," says Schmidt, who, along with executive producer Harry Freeman, is a huge theater fan. "We just didn't want to disenfranchise people and have them say, 'OK, I've never seen that. I don't care about this whole category' and turn away."
Kelly Miyahara, one of the Clue Crew, was on hand at the empty Broadway theater in June to help tape several clues herself — all while trying to remain cool.
"I think is every little girl's dream to be on the stage at Cinderella," says Miyahara, who sat in Cinderella's carriage and even wore her tiara. "It took me back to being 10 years old again sitting on that stage."
Jimmy McGuire, another of the Clue Crew, was also there and was dazzled. A theater fan as well, he went to high school with Tony winner Billy Porter in Pittsburgh and played Conrad Birdie in a production of "Bye Bye Birdie" in eighth grade.
"To me, just being on the stage gave me the biggest thrill," says McGuire. "I was pretending it was a packed house."
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