Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Sheynem Dank, Reverand Josh Ellis AND Sheldon Harnick!

Is this the little boy I carried?
Is that the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older.
When did they?

We did they get to be so handsome?
When did they grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?
-Revised Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick for our wedding!

Happy Tuesday!
The universe has been moving in a unique way this year. My year began with my critically acclaimed show off-Broadway. I turned 50 this year! I celebrated in Palm Springs with Carol Channing! I've done less performing in general this year but have been pleased with what I have done. We have experienced the worst winter in New York's recorded history, hurricanes, floods...we are about to move into the top 5 recorded rainiest years on record!
In June, The Marriage Equality act become a law allowing same sex couples to marry in the state of New York! Danny and I have been together for 21 1/2 years. We had never discussed getting married.
We didn't feel that it was going to change our lives one way or the other. Then the law went through and we started THINKING about it. Then Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn thought of a lottery idea to keep tabs on how many people would be married that first day.

So, we entered the lottery AND they called us! We were among the first 100 couples to get married THE DAY IT BECAME LEGAL in New York! Our picture was picked up by the Associated Press and we were seen ALL OVER THE WORLD!
Once the word was out, we decided to have a party to celebrate with our friends and loved ones.

As Danny and I began discussing this, we decided to exchange our vows once again (even though we had done it in a civil ceremony in July). I called my friend Joshua Ellis who is now an ordained interfaith minister after being one of Broadway's top publicists for many years. After finding a date that worked for all of us, I asked him to officiate. Then it was off to find a venue for what was now becoming a "wedding" celebration. The first venue we contacted, a local church, had an issue with same sex weddings. Every other venue that we contacted was not available. We were right between Rosh Hoshannah and Yom Kippur. A lot of bar mitzvas! A friend suggested Duke's Ocean Grill in Tappan. I resisted for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don't eat seafood and immediately my mind went there. Secondly, it is in a strip mall! Danny and I have passed it probably hundreds of times but never went in. The number for Duke's stayed on my desk for several days. After every other option fell through, I bit the bullet and spoke with Sue Yu, the banquet manager. Number One, they happened to be available the night we desired, October 1st! We arranged to go by and see the venue that night. The moment we walked in, the vibe was perfect! We immediately fell in love with Sue! Once we saw the room, we KNEW this was the place. There is a Yiddish expression, bashert. It means predestined; meant to be. From that moment on EVERYTHING fell into place! I happened to be reading PARTY OF THE CENTURY by Deborah Davis.

The fabulous story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball.
I thought it would be fun to try and recreate the elegance of that night. Danny liked the idea and Sue agreed to work with us on every aspect of that evening. I wanted black and white table cloths, I wanted the wait staff in black and white (they are normally in blue and burgundy). Sue said she would make our dream a reality. This was her first same-sex marriage and she wanted us! From that moment on, she was very hands on and very accommodating.
The original black and white ball was a masked ball. Danny came up with the idea of having black and white mardi gras masks as part of the centerpieces. A real nice touch. We also had 300 black and white balloons around the room. The room only accommodated 160 guests (including us). That was a blessing and a curse. It certainly kept us from "going overboard". How do you squeeze your friends from 21 years down to 160? We know who those friends are who stay in touch. We started naming names as they popped into our heads. Also what family members will actually make the journey to be with us? Then Danny's staff. It was like casting a show. Pnce we had all the pieces in place, we knew we had the perfect cast! Our friend Karen Skoglund came on board to take care of all the decorative ideas.

Once we reached 160 people on that first list, we needed to get the invitations out. My designer and friend, Glen Charlow, offered to design our card as a wedding gift. We both were thrilled with what he came up with.

We then hired Rich Siegel's Orchestra. We knew they would set the right tone for what we desired. Then the planning of the "wedding" began. Danny did not want the "traditional" wedding in the sense of us walking down the aisle with flower girls, brides maids and/or groomsmen. Music is an integral part of our lives so I decided to have four singers and me...originally!

I asked Miles Equality Phillips (my Millie) to serve as our best man and sing Moon River, one of my favorite songs and the Academy Award winner of 1961, the year I was born. It also tied into the Truman Capote aspect of the evening. Sue Matsuki was asked to sing Secret Love, the Academy Award winner the year Danny was born (1954) and highly appropriate! Then Leslie Orofino, who was a witness when Danny and I married in July, to sing Married from Cabaret tied in with It's A new World (also from 1954). Annie Hughes FLEW IN FROM WISCONSIN to share in this occasion, sang A Quiet Thing from Flora, The Red Menace. I asked Annie to introduce Josh Ellis who would then bring us up to exchange our vows. Asking Josh to officiate was an inspired choice. Everyone should take a page from his book about how to do this. There were many phone calls plus a dinner in the city to make this OUR wedding. He desired from the beginning for us to write our own vows. Danny could not see my vows and visa versa. In all honesty, Danny was a little nervous about this. Josh said he would work with Danny on making this what he wanted it to be. Josh said we had no limits and/or boundaries on what OUR wedding could be. I was going to sing IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT after we were once again pronounced married in the presence of our friends and family.
Then truly miraculous things began to happen. Josh called me up with a top secret brainchild he had. What if he could get Sheldon Harnick to write special lyrics to probably the most famous marriage SONG every written, Sunrise, Sunset. My heart lept. I did not think it would happen. Josh said it was a shot in the dark. A few days later, Josh called me with the great news. I could not believe it! Mr. Harnick opened his heart and put pen to paper and gave my partner and myself a GIFT that will continue to give for all eternity. Fiddler on The Roof is about embracing tradition while accepting the changes that are also happening. What could be more appropriate than this song? There was only one actress/singer I thought of to sing this song at our wedding. That was our dear friend Jana Robbins. I was thrilled when she said she would sing it. I wanted her to sing it AFTER we were once again pronounced married.
I don't think there was a dry eye in the house...especially after the intro given by Rev. Ellis. It was truly a wonderful thing
When Lee Roy Reams accepted our wedding invitation, I then asked if HE would end our ceremony with IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT from Hello, Dolly! . He said YES! We then asked Lenny Babbish to accompany all the singers so that Rich Siegel would take a break during the actual wedding ceremony. It went beautifully beyond our expectations. Everyone was dressed in black and white with NO EXCEPTIONS! Everyone looked elegant and made for a classy evening as we envisioned it.
Here are a few excepts from ERIK PIEPENBURG's article in The New York Times: In an interview on Monday Mr. Harnick said it took him “about a day or two” to figure out the right way to adjust the lyrics. Since the wedding he’s received positive feedback from wedding guests and total strangers.
“I’ve already had some very touching emails from gay guys,” he said. “I was very surprised at how emotional they were. I got an email from a friend saying, ‘Thank you. Now I know what I want sung at my wedding to my partner.’ ”

As said earlier, The change was made at the request of Joshua Ellis, an interfaith minister who officiated at the wedding. A few weeks ago Mr. Ellis, who was a theatrical press agent for 30 years before entering the ministry, approached Mr. Harnick about writing lyrics specifically for gay couples. Mr. Ellis had already officiated at a number of same-sex weddings since gay marriage went into effect in New York in July.

Mr. Ellis said Mr. Harnick conferred with Richard Ticktin, who represents Jerry Bock, the “Fiddler on the Roof” composer, who died last year. Mr. Ellis said Mr. Ticktin told him that Mr. Bock “would have been delighted” to make the changes.

Mr. Ellis said the grooms and their guests had a “visceral” response to the new lyrics.

But why not change the lyrics under the radar? Who would find out? As a man of the cloth, Mr. Ellis said it was out of the question to do so without getting permission from the show’s creators.

“I wanted them them to be sanctioned,” said Mr. Ellis, who was a press agent for the original productions of “Into the Woods,” “Nicholas Nickleby” and many other shows. “If I’m going to do it with a Sondheim lyric, why not ask him first? It’s the professional thing to do, the ethical thing to do and the classy thing to do.”

He continued: “If the marriage is now equal, the copyrights should be equal too.”

I love the letter Josh sent to Carol Channing! To me, this captures the evening!
Dear Harry and Carol,
I come to tell you about officiating at last night's re-affirmation ceremony of Richard Skipper and Danny Sherman.

It is not every couple that gets a standing ovation simply by being called up to the platform to begin the ceremony. Carol, you have spoken of "waves of love" coming up from the audience to the stage. Last night I finally understood how that feels. It was a tsunami of love.
Certain saints are famous for "bilocation," meaning they could be in two places at the same time. Saint Carol, I wish you could have done that last night. Throughout the evening you were a presence, even in your absence. So many people referred to you and Dolly Levi throughout the evening. When the band played "Dancing," I thought of you. When Lee Roy Reams sang "It Only Takes a Moment," I thought of you. When Richard sang "Before the Parade Passes By," I thought of you.

Needless to say, with Richard in charge, everything was worked out like clockwork. Each singer performed to perfection, and the song selection was so touching. A wonderful accompanist, a great band, terrific food, endless laughter, a few tears, many cheers, a Conga line, a sublime wedding cake, many photo ops, and a love-in, kiss-fest at the exit door at the end of the evening.
No "pressure with the thumbs" needed to keep this couple together forever.
It was Sondra Lee who introduced me to Richard in the first place.

And it was at HELLO, DOLLY! on March 25, 1964 that you, Sondra and I were in the same place (the St. James Theatre) at the same time (the matinee performance), and life has never been the same for me.
I've attached a press release that is going out tomorrow about something else that happened at the wedding. It speaks for itself.
With all my love,

Mr. Harnick,
You and I have never met although your music has always been a part of my life. When Reverend Josh Ellis, who officiated my marriage to my partner of 21 years, Daniel Sherman, Saturday night suggested contacting you regarding Sunrise, Sunset as part of our wedding celebration with new lyrics to be inclusive of OUR marriage, my heart did loop de loops. Although I was hopeful, I never dreamed it would possibly happen. You need to know that you have touched my heart in a way that mere words cannot even convey. I am deeply honored that you opened your heart and put pen to paper to grant this to a couple that you do not know. I know I speak for ALL people when I say this is a monumental thing you have done Mr. Harnick. And I hope that you see what Jana Robbins did with your lyrics. I was deeply moved by the fusion of great lyrics and music and a great actress to come together along with the deep admiration and respect of someone such as Josh Ellis who hoped and believed in a miracle of miracles! It is a gift that I will cherish for now and always!
Once again, A sheynem dank, Mr. Harnick!

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


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Tomorrow's blog will be about...THE RICHES NEW YORK HOLDS FOR TOMORROW NIGHT!!! I'm also seeking a video question for tomorrow!


Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

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