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Theater is known for its wide variety of colorful superstitious traditions: never uttering the title of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’; replacing ‘Good luck’ with ‘ Break a leg”. But one tradition outranks them all and it’s exclusive to Broadway. Before any Broadway show (which posses an ensemble) on opening night, everyone from the cast and crew is called to the stage for the presentation of a very special garment called “The Gypsy Robe”. The gypsy robe isn’t an object of beauty or fashion; it’s always a blend of odd shaped and mismatched colors. What makes the Gypsy Robe special is that it’s made from pieces of costume and fabric that consist of every Broadway show before it. This magnificent piece of clothing isn’t presented to the leading star, nor to the director, but the chorus member who has been deemed to be working in Broadway the longest. Being deemed a chorus veteran is an incredible honor. While never in the spotlight, anyone whose seen a chorus line can tell you that a chorus member can be just as talented, or even more talented, than a lead. The Gypsy, as they are now addressed for the night, must wear the robe and circle the stage counter clockwise three times, with everyone touching the robe for good luck. The Gypsy must then knock on each dressing room for good luck, then the show is considered blessed.
The tradition started with the 1950 show “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” when chorus dancer Bill Bradley sent a giant pink robe used from the show to an unknown female chorus dancer who was performing in “Call Me Madam” at the Imperial Theater. Bradley made up an elaborate story on how the robe was worn by all of the Ziegfeld Beauties and would bless their show. To solidify the myth and add that extra element of wonder, someone cut off a rose from one of Ethel Merman’s costumes from ‘Gypsy’ and sewed it onto the robe. Afterwards it was sent to the next opening musical, ‘Guys and Dolls’. Since then it is passed to every Broadway musical an opening night – well, not the same one that Bradley made. For all intensive purposes, when a robe becomes too big, they start a new one that will then be referred to as The Gypsy Robe.
So what do I think of this? I see the gypsy robe as one of the most beautiful traditions in musical theater. Their worn pieces of actual Broadway history, through flops and hits the robe has always been there. It’s also important to honor the chorus members who, while faceless, are just as important to a production. As for the actual ritual itself, there is nothing scarier than opening a live musical and any extra help, whether magical or psychological, is comforting in a medium where anything can happen. The ritual itself is also a testament to the creativity and whimsy of the theater world. The circling is based on what feels right to do and tradition rather then an actual documented historical event. You won’t see a ceremony this loving or elaborate on an oil rig commencement or slaughterhouse opening. It’s fitting that honor itself is just temporary; after all, a gypsy being in a chorus is a life about hard work and moving on to the next show. It’s not like anyone gets involved in musical theater for the awards, anyway. The unofficial Gypsy anthem “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line” really says it best.
Check out this link of an actual Gypsy robe ceremony from Legally Blonde the musical above.