Posted May 3, 2013
AEA’s GYPSY ROBE®
Stephanie Pope Garners Equity’s
Recreating 60 Year Historic Broadway Backstage Tradition
On Thursday, April 25, AEA’s iconic Gypsy Robe® was presented to Stephanie Pope on the opening night of PIPPIN at The Music Box Theatre on Broadway. This colorful ceremony, which honors a chorus member who has the most Broadway chorus credits on opening night, is one of Broadway’s most cherished backstage traditions.
Equity's National Chorus Business Representative David Westphal welcomed everyone and introduced AEA President Nick Wyman, First VP Paige Price, Executive Director Mary McColl, Eastern Regional Director Thomas Carpenter and Robe Historian Gloria Rosenthal.
Excitement filled the stage as Westphal invited cast members who were making their Broadway debuts to step forward for a photo, including: Erik Altemus, Greg Arsenal, Lolita Costet, Orion Griffiths, Viktoria Grimmy, Sabrina Harper, Olga Kamansky, Philip Rosenberg, Yannick Thomas and Molly Tynes.
A spectacular entourage of past robe recipients were introduced by Terry Marone, including Michael Arnold, Adrian Bailey, Jim Borstelmann, Eileen Casey, Pi Douglass, Harvey Evans, Kevin Ligon, Michael X. Martin, Bill Nable, Michael James Scott, Judine Somerville, Roger Preston Smith, Tommar Wilson and Chet Walker, Pippin’s own choreographer !
Next, Jason Wooten, who received the robe in JEKYLL & HYDE, stepped forward to recite the robe’s history and announce the newest recipient: Stephanie Pope.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Stephanie walked to the center of the stage, knelt down in front of Jason, then stood and said: "It is such an incredible, amazing honor to receive this robe – it is beyond anything imaginable. I worked on Broadway for 19 years and took a break for 10 years, before coming back in PIPPIN. When you leave a company, they give you a gold watch; but when you leave Broadway, they give you nothing. This robe is my gold watch."
Stephanie has appeared in the chorus on Broadway in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, FOSSE, JELLY’S LAST JAM, and THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES.
The Gypsy Robe© began in 1950, when Bill Bradley, in the chorus of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, borrowed a dressing gown from Chorus member Florence Baum and sent it to a friend in CALL ME MADAM on opening night (Oct 12, 1950) saying it was worn by all the Ziegfeld beauties and would "bless" the show. A cabbage rose from Ethel Merman's gown was added and the robe was passed along to next Broadway musical on opening night. The tradition evolved so that the Robe is now presented to the "gypsy" who has performed the most Broadway musicals on a chorus contract. 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.
When Gypsy Robes are completely embellished with artifacts, souvenirs and sketches, they are retired and a new robe is started. Recognizing their cultural and historic value, two retired Gypsy Robes are in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; three are in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; three are in the Museum of the City of New York; and one is in the lobby of the Times Square Museum & Visitor Center.
Gypsy Robes can also be viewed in Equity's three regional offices: the 2007-2008 robe, dedicated to Broadway veteran Adrian Bailey, is located on the fourteenth floor in the New York Council Room lobby; Chicago holds the 2005-2006 robe; and Orlando houses the robe from 2003-2004.
The supervision and guardianship of the Gypsy Robe is maintained by the Actors' Equity Association Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs (ACCA).