The Tradition of the Gypsy Robe
Luck is a funny thing. For over half a century, no musical has opened on Broadway without the blessings of a magical garment called the Gypsy Robe. It brings with it luck, tradition, and a sense of community.
In 1959, Bill Bradley, a dancer in the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, borrowed a tacky dressing robe from a chorus girl or “gypsy” – as the singers and/or dancers in Broadway choruses call themselves. On opening night, he paraded through backstage bestowing blessings on the production. It was a major hit.
In a fun attempt to ease the jitters of a friend on the opening night of Call Me Madam, Bradley sent a dressing robe he received from another chorus member and claimed it was a legendary good luck charm worn by the beauties in the Ziegfeld Follies. Bradley also added a charm from his own successful show, a large rhinestone to represent the musicals hit song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Again, the show was a hit!
The robe was then passed from show to show with something representing that show being added each time. During the 1960s, as it was handed along, official rules on how it was to be presented, worn, and paraded gradually evolved. Today, the presentation of the Gypsy Robe has become a formal ceremony. On opening night all the embers of the cast assemble in a circle at center stage. The previous winner of the Gypsy Robe appears wearing the garment.
The robe is, in some ways, the performer’s “amazing technicolor dreamcoat.” The gypsy, although a breed of performer not easily categorized, is usually a cast member known in part for their dedication and professionalism. When put into any environment they will get the job done, no matter the obstacles for “the show must go on!” Gypsies are noted for their ability to think on their feet and handle any problem. “A gypsy never gives up!”
The cast has voted. The new King or Queen is announced! Amidst cheers and congratulations, the new winner dons the robe and walks counterclockwise around the circle three times as cast members reach out and touch the garment for good luck. Still wearing the robe, the winner then visits each dressing room to disperse good luck throughout all the cast.
When a robe is completely covered with artifacts, souvenirs and sketches, it is retired and a new one started. Three retired robes are at the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts; two are in the Smithsonian; and all others are with Actors’ Equity.
Each cast member gets one vote for who they think should receive the Gypsy Robe. The winner is announced Thursday night before the show. The winner wears the robe during the run of the show then gives it to the costumer for safe keeping. They then return wearing the robe for the presentation at the next “opening”!