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    Posted November 24, 2010

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Gypsy Robe Recipients Toast 60th Anniversary of Broadway's Greatest Backstage Tradition

On October 12, 1950, Bill Bradley, a chorus dancer in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, borrowed a dressing gown from Florence Baum and sent it to Arthur Partington in the chorus of CALL ME MADAM, with a note proclaiming "the robe had been worn by all the Ziegfeld beauties and would bless their show." Thus began a backstage Broadway tradition that continues to this day on the opening night of every Broadway chorus musical.

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60 years later, the Gypsy Robe tradition was feted at a special anniversary gala hosted by the Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs (ACCA). Thirty Gypsy Robe recipients representing 42 shows all the way back to the UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1960) shared good times and reminiscences as they were honored at Sequoia, a posh eatery in lower Manhattan. The evening was organized and beautifully produced by AEA 2nd VP Rebecca Kim Jordan and Business Representative David Westphal.

As guests signed in, they were greeted by photos of Bill Bradley, and a photo of the original Gypsy Robe featuring Frank Reynolds (TWO ON THE AISLE), who received the robe in July 1951. Party-goers enjoyed cocktails and overlooked NY Harbor while ACCA volunteers Frank Stancati, Melissa Robinette, Joanne Borts, and Kristine Nevins circulated and posed for pictures wearing four of the more recent Gypsy Robes AEA President Nick Wyman paid homage to the hard work and dedication of the chorus to kick off the celebration.

"I would like to welcome you and congratulate and celebrate you all," said AEA 2nd VP Rebecca Kim Jordan, who chairs the ACCA. "It is no small feat being openly recognized by peers, and in a community that is always about the next project and the next event. This is an evening to celebrate past accomplishments, and to take a moment to reflect on a tradition that has been going on since the 1950s."

"I looked up the word GYPSY and here's what I found:

  • 'a member of a traveling people who traditionally live by seasonal work' ( that's true)
  • 'itinerant trade' (I think we call that touring)
  • 'fortune tellers' (otherwise known in our business as 'start auditioning when you see the stage hands leaving your show for a new show')
  • 'a person who lives an unconventional life' (that speaks for its self - look around!!
  • 'a person who moves from place to place as required by employment' (ditto)

So I asked a couple of chorus friends 'what makes you a gypsy?' They said:

  • "I lasted a long time in this biz",
  • "I didn't know how to be anything else."
  • "I didn't mean to do as many shows as I did - they just kept closing."
  • "I was not a show hopper - no matter what they said".
  • "The thought of having just one job for life paralyzed me."
  • "I needed to validate all of those dance classes and voice lessons."

But the comment that resounded with me most was: "We just move form show to show or job to job and even after not seeing someone for years at a time - we connect like an old tribe member." So that of course led me to the word "tribe," which is defined by a "social division in a society linked by economic ties with a common culture, dialect and typically having a recognized leader." Do Gypsies have a leader? The Dance Captain! Do Gypsies speak a language? Merde, Break A Leg! But above all, we understand, crave it and celebrate it.

Please enjoy our culture, yourselves and each other. Thank you for being a part of what makes what we do so special and different."

Kim then thanked all the people who have contributed dedicated service to the Gypsy Robe over the years, and each was given a round of applause.

All of the Recipients were introduced and came forward for a bow. In the background, Walter McBride's gorgeous, exclusive photos of Gypsy Robes through the years displayed on a big screen, while guests pointed and laughed at themselves and their company members from dozens of opening nights.

Other Robe recipients reminisced and reiterated Ms. Jordan's sentiments about the Robe:

Jennifer Smith (ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, HIGH SOCIETY, THE PRODUCERS): "The Gypsy Robe Ceremony is really the last moment when the show belongs exclusively to the company, before they give it away to the rest of the world. It's like the final team huddle before the Super Bowl. You don't know if you will win or lose but you know you've played a lot of games to get here and you've created a wonderful and unique product. It celebrates the past with tradition, the present with possibilities and the future with the beauty of the unknown. It is a wonderful and important connection.

Judine Somerville (HAIRSPRAY): "The 60th Anniversary of the Gypsy Robe was an amazing evening....from the amazing gypsies, to the staff, the food, the joy and the love. I am so proud to be a Gypsy."

Pi Douglass (JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, THE SELLING OF THE PRESIDENT, THE WIZ): I'm one of those people who is just uncommonly lucky. Being a triple-threat served me well when it came to getting the robe. Receiving it for THE WIZ was such fun because I was the first person to put a train on it - it was the Yellow Brick Road, a piece of yellow material that hung down the back from the shoulders with each brick having a cast members name on it. Thanks for a wonderful evening with lovely friends of common cloth!

Capping off the evening was an emotional speech by AEA Councillor S. Marc Jordan (SOMETHING'S AFOOT- 1976), who spoke his pride in being a gypsy, and the joy of having such a talented daughter. Hugging Ms. Jordan, he added: "You're looking at the proudest father in the whole damn world!"

Click here for more Gypsy Robe information...

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