As Linda Eder's album rang from the Minskoff house sound system, the cast and crew of Scarlet Pimpernel gathered for the Gypsy Robe Ceremony. Nearly everyone is wearing white scarves as a salute to their director, Peter Hunt, who has worn one throughout rehearsals.
The Gypsy Robe Ceremony goes back to 1950, when one of the gypsies -- dancers who go from show to show -- from the previous year's hit Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed on a robe to a dancer from Call Me Madame, as a way of passing on the show's luck. As the passing of the robe built into a tradition, actors would add some memento from the show to the robe. The robes have gone through several editions since then, the old ones being retired to the Actors Equity Association building, or the Billy Rose Collection.
Darlene Wilson, who received the robe last week on the opening night of Side Show, relates this history with wide sweeps of her arms emphasizing the loose cuffs of the robe. The Pimpernel cast is gathered around her in a wide circle, some with arms entwined, some leaning on each others shoulders, or standing with crossed arms. The cast and crew are in various states of transition from civvies to costumes. The producers and others who will be in the audience are already in tuxedos or evening gowns. Some have cameras or videocams as Wilson speaks.
Wilson says of Side Show, "We got great reviews and we're starting to get an audience," and she passes along the warm wishes for success from the Side Show company.
Now she announces the Pimpernel recipient of the Gypsy Robe. IT'S JAMES DYBAS -- who has been doing our Countdown to Curtain Diary! Dybas beams and tries to walk, but the robe is too long. He hitches it up, and makes his ritual three turns around the circle of his fellow cast members. The first time around he stops for hugs and kisses.
C'mon, we've got a show to do!, someone says, laughing. He nods and begins to run, one arm outstretch to touch each hand. He's smiling, everyone else is laughing and cheering.
When he's done, he gives a little speech. It's the second time he's gotten the robe, the first being more than 20 years ago, when he got it for Pacific Overtures. "This is so incredible!" he says, completely out of breath.
It's now time for the cast to get into costume. The house will be open in less than an hour. But before everyone leaves, director Peter Hunt is pulled to the center of the stage. The cast has a special present for him, which he must open right now. He opens the box -- it's a white scarf -- but emblazoned with the pimpernel signet that is the show's logo.
"Whoa!," he shouts, flushing furiously. "Great!"
He spots the logo and is silent for a moment as everyone applauds. Then, when quiet comes, Hunt looks around the circle. "I love you. Have a great time tonight.