The People Called It RAGTIME! (Part 1)


The Broadway opening of the Ragtime revival was pretty darned spectacular. Of course the company was still exhausted; all during previews we’d been on a full performance schedule while still rehearsing during the day. We also had our share of illnesses – the weekend prior to our November 15th opening, I’d caught the respiratory crud that was making its way through cast and crew, and ended up missing both performances on Sunday the 8th. I can’t remember when I’ve been so sick. I had a hacking cough and was terribly weak – no joke when you’re dashing around trying to climb those stairs to make your costume changes. I stayed in bed all day Sunday and most of the day Monday, and by Tuesday I was able to perform again, although I wasn’t back to full voice for a while.

John and our friend Debbie Hren came up to enjoy the opening festivities. I spent part of the day Sunday walking around New York with them; we visited Rockefeller Center and did a little shopping, but my mind was on the show and I doubt I was very good company. I headed over to the theatre well in advance of our 6 PM call time; never in my life have I been able to get ready for a show in under an hour. In fact, for Ragtime I was usually at the theatre an hour and fifteen minutes early. Opening night I think I was there slightly more than an hour and a half before showtime!

And a good thing, too. I should have known something was up when I signed in and remarked to one of the Neil Simon staff about the masses of flowers waiting at the stage door. She said, “you haven’t been up to your dressing room yet, have you?” I said no, and her response was “hmm.”

I saw why when I walked into the dressing room I shared with Savannah Wise (Evelyn Nesbit). Actually, I could smell why as I stepped out of the elevator. Our whole floor smelled like a garden, and our dressing room was simply one flower arrangement after another. I couldn’t even see my station for the flowers. I had flowers on the shelf above, flowers on the table, flowers on the chair, on the radiator and on the shelf above the costume rack. In addition to the flowers, there were cards and gifts piled high. I was in a state of shock.

I only had a few minutes to open cards and to make space at my station before I had to start getting ready. Pincurling my hair and pinning on my wig cap usually took about twenty minutes, and I knew at the one-hour call we’d be summoned to the stage for the presentation of the Gypsy Robe. I didn’t want to miss a minute of it, and I’d also been given permission to bring John and Debbie backstage so they could watch. All the while, more flowers and gifts and cards kept arriving. Somehow I got my hair partially prepped, stuck a hat on over the wig cap, met John at the stage door and got to the stage just as The Robe arrived.

For those who’ve never heard of The Gypsy Robe, there’s a great explanation of the history and significance of The Robe at the Actors Equity Association website. It’s a Broadway tradition, and one that neither John nor I wanted to miss. I was lucky that John was there to take photos and movies, and I’m mostly going to let the movies speak for themselves. Here’s the moment when all of us who were making our Broadway debuts were recognized:

And here’s where Michael X. Martin, who played J.P. Morgan (among others), was named the recipient of The Robe:

The previous recipient of The Robe (from Finian’s Rainbow, I believe), explains how The Robe came to be, and the responsibilities of The Robe recipient:

And after a false start, Michael X. begins his Gypsy Robe duties:

After The Robe ceremonies were over, we all went back to our respective dressing rooms to get ready. The cards, gifts and flowers continued to pour in; I think I ended up with a dozen arrangements (the one from John was ENORMOUS and GORGEOUS). I didn’t have time to open all of them (in fact, it would be the next day before I got a chance to look at everything carefully and read all the cards). Savannah and I hurried into costume and went downstairs to get ready for our Opening Night performance.

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