Playbill Partners with "CBS Sunday Morning" For "The Gypsy Project," Documenting the Journey of the Gypsy Robe
By Michael Gioia
Opening night on Broadway comes with many traditions — cards, congratulations and lavish after-parties. And then there is the passing on of the Gypsy Robe — an opening-night staple since the 1950s — which spotlights some of the most important members on The Great White Way: the gypsies.
From Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which kicked off the 2011-12 Broadway season, to Leap of Faith, the last musical to open in time for Tony eligibility, "CBS Sunday Morning" documented the journey of the robe — a gypsy, itself — as it made its way through New York City's famed theatre district.
On Tony Sunday, June 10 — when Actors' Equity Association will receive a Special Tony Award in honor of its 100th anniversary — CBS will feature the chorus members of AEA and their stories associated with the Gypsy Robe. "CBS Sunday Morning" correspondent Mo Rocca, who was seen on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, will host the segment.
"For the past year, we've been following the Gypsy Robe from musical to musical," Rocca told Playbill.com. "Considering how popular Broadway musicals are, it's remarkable how few people know about this. And, it really captures what makes a musical a musical, which are the ensemble members — the chorus."
The Gypsy Robe ceremony takes place about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before the opening-night performance, where the cast and creative team stand on stage in a circle. The person who received the Robe at the previous Broadway opening will arrive with the Robe, stand in the middle of the circle and announce the winner — the chorus member with the most Broadway chorus credits. The recipient puts on the Robe and walks counterclockwise around the inside of the circle three times, as everyone in the circle touches it for good luck. Equity representatives and past winners also attend the ceremony. Read the Ask Playbill.com column for an in-depth explanation of the ceremony.
Playbill has teamed up with "CBS Sunday Morning" to present the segment in its entirety, which also features interviews with Broadway gypsies Florence Brooks-Dunay (Baum), the woman who started the tradition in 1950 with the show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Adrian Bailey (The Little Mermaid), Cameron Adams (Nice Work If You Can Get It), Brian O'Brien (Chicago), Jennie Ford (Evita), Richard Korthaze (Anything Goes), Judine Somerville (Hairspray), JoAnn Hunter (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), Tad Wilson (Bonnie & Clyde), Jessica Bishop (West Side Story) and Jean Michelle Grier (The Lion King) as well as AEA national chorus business representative and Gypsy Robe coordinator David Westphal and "Queen of the Gypsies" Chita Rivera (West Side Story), among others.
Rocca added, "Chita Rivera told me, 'When you're a gypsy, you share the stage. You understand what theatre is all about. It's not just about one person. It's about the whole group… Sometimes when you're in the back, it's just as good as the front.' And, she proudly bears the mantle 'Queen of the Gypsy.'"
According to Equity's website, the ceremony began in 1950 when Bill Bradley, who was in the chorus of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, received a dressing gown from chorus girl Baum — who is interviewed in the "CBS Sunday Morning" segment and describes the beginnings of the Robe — and sent it to a friend on opening night of Call Me Madam.
"It's a fitting tribute to Actors' Equity's birthday that we're shining a light on this ceremony, which is not about stars, but is about the heart of Broadway," said Rocca.
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