It's Broadway's greatest fashion statement
You can keep your Tony Awards and your Pulitzer Prizes. If you ask any Broadway chorus member what the highest honor is, it’s the Gypsy Robe.
Built on a tradition dating back to 1950, the Gypsy Robe is a garment bestowed on the opening night of a Broadway musical to the chorus member (or gypsy) with the largest number of Broadway credits to their name. When the next show with a Broadway chorus opens, the robe is passed on to another veteran trouper, but not before everyone in the previous cast has signed it and stitched on a memento—cheerleader pom-poms for Bring It On, for example, or the head of Trekkie Monster for Avenue Q. Once a robe has been filled to capacity with such souvenirs, it is retired (a couple are in the Smithsonian) and a new one takes its place.
At the 2005 opening of In My Life, 12-year-old Brynn Williams became the youngest-ever recipient of the Gypsy Robe. Multiple honorees over the years have included Chita Rivera, who is often nicknamed the Queen of the Gypsies, and Donna McKechnie, who starred in that prototypical musical about Broadway gypsies, A Chorus Line.
What has been established as a hallowed ritual, however, began as a joke. In 1950, 18-year-old Florence Baum (who would later become Mel Brooks’ first wife) was a chorus girl in the box-office smash Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when fellow cast member and future choreographer Bill Bradley persuaded her to give him a campy, white satin negligee that she wore backstage. Bradley passed the dressing gown off to another chorus boy as a gag gift for the opening night of Ethel Merman’s Call Me Madam. After that show turned out to be a success, Bradley’s friend pinned a rose from Merman’s costume onto the gown and forwarded it to yet another colleague, who was opening the next month in the original production of Guys and Dolls. That, of course, became a monster hit as well, and within a few years, a good-luck ritual had been born.
The tradition continued through many seasons and many different robes until it began to lose steam and face extinction. Then, in 1982, a theatre fan named Gloria Rosenthal heard about it for the first time, published an article in Playbill, and persuaded Actors’ Equity to officially oversee the event. Since then, the Gypsy Robe has become a permanent New York institution.
This video is a collaboration between TDF and Actors’ Equity Association.
Here’s the creative team:
Writer/director: Mark Blankenship, TDF’s online content editor
Cinematographer/editor: Nicholas Guldner
Starring: Adrian Bailey, Lisa Gajda, David Westphal
Actors’ Equity Association (“AEA” or “Equity”), founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 49,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members. Actors’ Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO, and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions.