What does Gentlemen Prefer Blondes have to do with Footloose?
Nothing -- except for nearly fifty years of Broadway musical history and lore.
Fifty years ago, according to Actors Equity spokesperson Terry Malone, Bill Bradley of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes passed on a garment worn in his show to a friend in the next Broadway musical opening that year, Call Me Madam. Since then, the "Gypsy Robe" has been passed from musical to musical, with a trail of smash hits, brutal flops, hopeful dancers and seasoned pros in its considerable wake.
At the Gypsy Robe ceremony for Footloose, held on the blue-painted stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre at 5:10 PM, Oct. 22, two robes were actually on view (apparently four are circulating, since so many shows have contributed a bit of costumery, proppery or frippery to the colorful gowns).
The dancers of Footloose formed a circle onstage and applauded as the robes were modeled by Jennifer Smith, who appeared in High Society (the last Broadway musical eligible for the Robe) and James Dybas of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Dybas later told Playbill On-Line his robe featured elements from Crazy For You, The Most Happy Fella and a toy stuffed dog on a string from Nick And Nora. The newer robe, he pointed out, comprised swatches from Pimpernel, Ragtime and The Lion King.
Once explanations had been made (including the fact that only a musical with a chorus is eligible for the Robe tradition), Hunter Foster was chosen to don the legendary garment. The assembled performers, producers and press cheered as a nun's hood (from The Sound of Music) was put on his head. It soon became apparent that his fellow singer/dancers were chanting "Chainsaw! Chainsaw!", which a production associate explained referred to Foster's nickname amongst his cohorts.
Foster then made the traditional journey around the assembled circle: Three times, counter clockwise, each time faster and faster. Each time, also, touching the hands of all involved with the production. After the ceremony, it would also be his duty to pay a visit to each and every dressing room. First, however, came a warm and fuzzy group photo, with "Chainsaw" serving as well as "Cheese" for a smile word.
The Roundabout's Little Me revival will be the next show to partake in the Gypsy Robe ceremony, due Nov. 12.