6 PM: Presention of the Gypsy Robe

News   6 PM: Presention of the Gypsy Robe

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Mindy Cooper displaying the Gypsy Robe
Mindy Cooper displaying the Gypsy Robe Photo by Photo credit: Starla Smith


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The afternoon of Titanic's opening night is hazy, but with the sun trying to break through. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre has been hung with strings of white lights and nautical flags spelling out the word "TITANIC" in sailing code.

Beneath the marquee, members of the cast have come out to the curb. Michael Cerveris is munching an apple, Victoria Clarke is hugging a friend who brought her a ring. Many of the others are wearing some of their gifts from producers, writers, agents and friends. Several wear white Titanic polo shirt from the producers Dodger Productions, or the maroon "I survived Titanic" shirts from writers Peter Stone and Maury Yeston.

Dressing rooms are incredibly crowded and the day is mild, but the real reason everyone is outside it that they're waiting for the Gypsy Robe. The questions: Who among them will inherit this Broadway tradition?

The Gypsy Robe was started in 1949 by one of the dancers in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Under rules that have evolved over the years, the Robe is passed from the chorus member with the most credits in one show, to the chorus member with the most credits in the next show. Credits are researched by Terry Marone of Actors Equity Association, but the final decision is left up to the holder of the robe. Each holder of the robe is supposed to add something from the show show to it, then pass it along.

Today, we're waiting for Amy Heggins of Dream, whose show came down about 4:15. About 4:40 she arrives at the stage door and sweeps onto the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne, where the Titanic cast is gathered.

The stage is set for the opening number, with the huge "White Star Line" gangplank crossing nearly the entire stage. The stage surface is so sharply raked from upstage to downstage that it's very hard on the ankles, even for just a few minutes.

No one seems to notice, however. They're used to it, and they're focused on Heggins who stands at the center of a circle of Titanic cast members. She dons the robe, which bears the moustached lips of Victor/Victoria, the parading elephants of The King and I and symbols of other shows. Prompted by Marone, she instructs the Titanic company that the new holder of the robe must walk three times counterclockwise around the stage, as every member of the chorus touches the robe.

Then she announces who will get the robe: Mindy Cooper, who has the small role of Edith Corse Evans and who mainly sings in chorus numbers.

The cast bursts into applause, and Cooper steps up to accept the robe from Heggins. As she circles the stage, people laugh and touch her warmly.

"Just the robe!" one of the men in the company mockingly warns.

Cooper says, mainly to herself, "I'm too short for this," then, "I can't believe I got the gypsy robe!"

The ritual over, the cast squeezed past the props packed into the stage right wing. Chairs are hung on pegs, a table is flown to the ceiling on a winch. Life preservers, Titanic blankets, wine bottles, cigar boxes, crystal, jewelry all sorted into narrow shelves, ready to go.

To get up to the dressing rooms on upper floors, the cast has to pass the callboard, where good wishes from other shows are tacked up: messages from Miss Saigon, Dream and the national tour of Sunset all wish the cast opposite luck from that of the original ship.

The actors' hangout, Barrymore's restaurant, has sent over baskets of red apples, a tradition, a note from the eatery asserts, that goes back to the 19th century.

Upstairs, in the third-floor men's dressing room, Michael Mulheren, who plays John B. Thayer, says "Opening night is about preparing for a big party. I consider the first preview to be opening night. That day I go around and touch each member of the cast as tell them to break a leg. That's an old tradtion."

Andy Taylor, who plays J.H. Rogers is hustling to finish writing notes to all the cast members. He has less than 90 minutes to go.

Ted Sperling, who plays one of the musicians, says the constant banging of his piano makes it go out of tune, so he checks it every night before the curtain rises. "That's my only ritual," he says. I just enjoy smelling the flowers."

Thanks to the show's many well-wishers, there are acres of them to smell. The whole dressing room area looks like a florists.

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