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October 25, 2002

Gypsy Robe Presented to Third Show in 2002-2003 Season


Marc Oka dons the gyspy robe

Alan Eisenberg, Lea Salonga, Marc Oka
photos by Sabrina Gordin

Marc Oka, currently performing in FLOWER DRUM SONG, 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 Virginia Theatre on opening night, recreating a historic, theatrical ritual that began on Broadway over 50 years ago.

Mr. Oka has appeared on Broadway in BELLS ARE RINGING, CATS, FOSSE, and MISS SAIGON. Additionally, he was also one of the Assistant Choreographers for FLOWER DRUM SONG and is also serving the Dance Captain.

Elizabeth Mills, the latest recipient of the robe for her work in the recently closed THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, presented the robe to Mr. Oka. Equity's Executive Director Alan Eisenberg was on hand to congratulate Mr. Oka and the rest of the cast.

Terry Marone, the director of the Gypsy Robe, explained that the 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 grew into a cherished opening night ritual.

Mr. Oka and FLOWER DRUM SONG are the third recipients of the robe in the 2002 - 2003 season, following Judine Richard for HAIRSPRAY and Elizabeth Mills and THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE. Other recent robe winners include: Casey Nicholaw in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE back on April 18; Harvey Evans in OKLAHOMA! and Alan Fitzpatrick in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. MOVIN' OUT will be next to receive the robe on its opening night, Thursday October 24 followed by DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES on Thursday, November 21.

Recognizing the cultural and historic value of the gypsy robes, 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.

David Lotz
Director of Communications
October 25, 2002

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