The Cloak of Broadway

  • Emily Kramer

With a flip of a switch, the lights dazzling, big and bright, light up yet another beautiful marquee on the Great White Way. Broadway’s newest addition, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, replaces the six-time Tony Award winning production of Kinky Boots, at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th Street. With an out-of-town premiere of the show in Boston, Massachusetts at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, this predicted hit starts previews on June 28th, 2019, and is set to open the following month. As the final adjustments are made in anticipation of opening night, one can only imagine the hard work and preparation that has gone into making this beautiful story, Broadway material. 

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is the latest in a long line of notable productions to be fortunate enough to call this theatre home. Formally known as the Martin Beck Theatre, this stage has seen its fair share of classics over the years, including: Bye Bye Birdie (1960), Into the Woods (1987), Guys and Dolls (1992), as well as, Sweet Charity (2005) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011). Various genres displayed through both plays and musicals have made their mark here. It may be hard to believe, but each of these musical productions including the ones who came before and to follow, all share a commonality amongst them. They all have participated in a powerful Broadway tradition dating back to the 1950s. Previously referred to as the Gypsy Robe Ceremony, the now titled, Legacy Robe Ceremony, takes place right before curtain on the opening night of a production.

It all started when a chorus member by the name of Florence Baum, from the company of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1950), shared her pale pink and white feathered dressing robe with the male dancers in the company. They each took turns flaunting the garment around the theater in attempt to entertain one another. It was then that fellow chorus member, Bill Bradley, decided to send the infamous robe to his friend who was performing in Broadway’s Call Me Madam. In an effort to commemorate its stay at the Imperial Theatre, a feathered rose from Ethel Merman’s costume was attached, before being sent off to the company of Guys and Dolls. The robe continued to be passed on from musical to musical with a memento from each one added in the process. In the midst of this, a tradition was born. 

Now a days, the ritual is performed by every Tony-eligible musical with a chorus to arrive on Broadway in a given season and is custom tailored to that year’s openings. On the productions opening night, a ceremony takes amongst the entire company and crew. Standing in a large circle on stage, often times the director or producer of the show will stand center. With the robe on display, the speaker awards the robe to a member of the ensemble who hold the most Broadway credits. It is then that that member bares the cloak and circles the stage counter-clock wise three times. In the process, the rest of the cast extend their arms out to touch the robe to gain good luck in all their future performances.

Following the initial ceremony, the awarded chorus member, still wearing the robe, makes their way around the theater, visiting each dressing room along the route. Upon the conclusion of recipient’s rounds, the production is considered “blessed” and ready for the full house awaiting their talent on the opposite side of the curtain. The honor also grants the recipient the ability to oversee what artifact from the production is added to the infamous robe. 

The timeless tradition holds immense meaning to the Broadway community. After so much time and effort, each company patiently awaits the night they get to expose audiences to the beautiful story they have held near and dear to their hearts for so long. There is no doubt that a blessed production is the foundation for a successful run on Broadway. Thus, we the public patiently await Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ s opening night on July 25th, to see who will be crowned the newest legacy, of the Legacy Robe.