I won $20,000 on 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?' I spent all the money putting on a revival of a Broadway show my dad was in almost 50 years ago

Associate producer of 'The Lieutenant' revival Kareen Akry, left, and Rachael Cianfrani. A poster for the 1975 production, right.
Left to right: Kareen Akry, the associate producer of the revival of "The Lieutenant," and Rachael Cianfrani alongside a poster for the 1975 production of the show.Rachael Cianfrani, Insider
  • Rachael Cianfrani, 45, won $20,000 competing on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in 2019.

  • She used her winnings to put on a revival of a Broadway show her father performed in 50 years ago.

  • Cianfrani told Insider that she did this to pay tribute to her dad, who died eight years ago.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Rachael Cianfrani, who competed on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in 2019.

Cianfrani used her winnings from the show to help put on a revival of 'The Lieutenant' — the 1975 Broadway show in which her father, Mark Cianfrani, was the lead guitarist.

This conversation has been edited for length and brevity.

Winning $20,000 on 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" allowed me to fulfill a dream of mine: paying tribute to my father in a really cool way.

This wasn't a business venture, but rather a total labor of love. I absolutely just wanted to honor my dad and bring something I had grown up hearing about back to life.

For me, there was no better way to do this than reviving a Broadway show he was in 47 years ago.

I was raised hearing tales of his time on Broadway

Growing up, my dad was a musician in clubs and bars and stuff like that. However, in 1975, he became a lead guitarist in 'The Lieutenant' — a show that was very subversive because it was examining the Vietnam War and our involvement in it.

I was raised hearing tales of his time on Broadway, his encounters with famous people, and things like that.

As a child, I remember him always singing or whistling this song from the show to me.

Vern Jackson, Mark Cianfrani, and Pat Collard (left to right) in a photograph supplied to Insider by Rachael Cianfrani.
Vern Jackson, Mark Cianfrani, and Pat Collard (left to right) in a photograph supplied to Insider by Rachael Cianfrani.Rachael Cianfrani, Insider.

Not long after he passed, which was super traumatic because we were so close, I got to meet with the show's writer, Chuck Strand, who gave me an album of the original cast recording.

Playing it, I discovered that the first song was the very one my dad used to sing to me. It was really, really beautiful to hear his voice and for the record to bring back the person he was before I was even born.

I'm getting emotional just thinking about it.

The writer told me that he wanted to revive the show, but I knew it wasn't going to come cheap.

So, I took a chance and auditioned for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Going into it, I 100% knew that I was going to spend any money I won pursuing this dream.

I got onto the show and went to Las Vegas for filming. While you might normally go there to party, I spent the whole night studying in the hotel room.

It paid off — I won $20,000.

I had no experience of producing anything at all

The winnings went to getting entertainment lawyers, talent, costume sketches, those sorts of things, as well as a backer's audition, where we showcased the music from the show for potential investors.

I think we raised about $70,000 in the first round. Then, there was another round, which I wasn't involved in, which raised about half a million dollars.

Costume sketches that Rachael Cianfrani was able to commission using the money she won.
Costume sketches that Rachael Cianfrani commissioned using the money she won.Rachael Cianfrani, Insider

I had no experience of producing anything at all before this experience. I relied solely on working my connections as much as possible.

I'd fly out to New York from California, asking everyone if they had any contacts on Broadway. I'd spend weeks out there, just meeting people and trying to put together a team.

Two months ago, we were finally able to stage the show in New York. Just like the original show, it ran for a week.

Being in the audience, listening to the music from the show, and seeing it come to life was extremely overwhelming and emotional.

My dad would be so thrilled

It was very exciting to relive one of my dad's greatest moments in life.

Now that it's over, I feel relief. While I have big hopes that it will get picked up by a bigger theatre, it feels like I accomplished my goal — thanks to a game show.

My dad, who was a very funny guy, would be so thrilled.

I know that he would look at this situation, laugh, and say something like: 'I can't believe you did that, Rachael. Well, of course, you did. That's so the girl I raised.'

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