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Hairspray cast
Photo by Walter McBride/Retna

Judine models the robe
Photo by Walter McBride/Retna

Equity's GYPSY ROBE, Historic Broadway Icon, Presented at HAIRSPRAY

Judine Richard, currently performing in HAIRSPRAY, is the newest recipient of Equity's famous "Gypsy Robe." The colorful icon was presented to the chorus member at a special backstage ceremony at the Neil Simon Theatre on opening night, recreating a historic, theatrical ritual that began on Broadway over 50 years ago.

Joann M. Hunter, currently performing in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, presented the robe to Ms. Richard on behalf of Casey Nicholow, the previous robe recipient. Richard Korthaze, who won the robe in DANCIN' and the original HOW TO SUCCEED… also took a bow.

Terry Marone, the director of the gypsy robe, explained that tradition started in 1950, when a dancer, Bill Bradley,, took an old robe from a female chorus member in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, decorated it and gave it to a chorus member in CALL ME MADAM. According to Marone, the robe is presented to the "gypsy" who has done the most Broadway musicals on a chorus contract. (In the musical theatre, a "gypsy" is a dancer and/or singer who is hired in the chorus). The robe is then passed along from show to show on opening night as a token of good luck for a long run. Along the way, the robe is decorated, painted, patched, stitched, and signed by everyone in the show, becoming a fanciful patchwork for an entire Broadway season. Through the years, the tradition has grown into a cherished opening night ritual.

Equity's Executive Director Alan Eisenberg congratulated Ms. Richard and the entire cast, and introduced one of the producers, Margo Lion. Marone introduced Gloria Rosenthal, the robe's historian, and David Lotz, Equity's Director of Communications.

HAIRSPRAY is the first Broadway musical to open in the 2002-2003 season. The most recent Broadway opening was THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (April 18), where Casey Nicholaw won the robe. Other robe winners this past season include: Harvey Evans (OKLAHOMA), and Alan Fitzpatrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS).

Recognizing their cultural and historic value, Actors' Equity recently donated two robes into permanent collections at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History, and three robes to the Museum of the City of New York. Seven "elderly" robes are still maintained by the Union at its national headquarters on West 46th Street, and one is always on display in the Equity Audition Center.