A New Dawn for "Sunrise, Sunset" at Same-Sex Wedding; Sheldon Harnick Revises Lyrics of the Nuptial Standard

By Robert Simonson
October 3, 2011

One of the most common things in the world happened on Oct. 1 in Tappan, NY. "Sunrise, Sunset" was performed at a wedding.

Only this time it was a little different. The song — which has accompanied thousands of nuptials since its debut on Sept. 22, 1964, in Fiddler on the Roof — graced the wedding celebration of two men, entertainer Richard Skipper and landscape architect Daniel Sherman, and the melancholy-happy tune's story of a "little girl I carried" and a "little boy at play," now told of two boys.

"I've been doing same-sex weddings since New York law permitted it in July," said Rev. Joshua Ellis, whose new career as a New York-based Interspiritual minister was preceded by many years as a theatrical press agent in New York City. "And something was missing. Nobody was singing 'Sunrise, Sunset.' It's sung all the time in weddings of mixed couples. I guessed it was because they talk about a little boy and a little girl. So I contacted [lyricist] Sheldon Harnick."

Ellis continued, "Within a few days, he wrote a note back. He'd contacted Richard Ticktin, who was best friend of Jerry Bock and his representative. Attached to that email were revised lyrics of the song." Ellis then gently asked Harnick if he could also write a set of lyrics for a female couple. Those arrived soon after.

Skipper and Sherman had already been married in a small ceremony on July 24; the Tappan event was a re-affirmation and a celebration for their friends. "As part of the ceremony, I explained the whole thing," said Ellis. "I told the crowd this was the world premiere. This was it. Jana Robbins sang it. She did it magnificently. When it was over, the applause just went on and on and on. There were people who were applauding, people who were crying, people who were silent in awe."

The Skipper-Sherman union was the third same-sex marriage Ellis has conducted in New York State. The second also had a theatrical aura; it united longtime theatre journalist (and Playbill.com correspondent) Harry Haun and his partner Charles Nelson. The ceremony was held on the third floor at Angus McIndoe. (A previous plan to do the wedding at the outdoor Delacorte Theater was abandoned when rain threatened.) The two men approached Ellis to the strains of "Just in Time" from Bells Are Ringing and recited long, humorous vows which found an appreciative audience in the congregation, which included actors Simon Jones and Judith Light. (For those interested, Ellis can be reached through his website, www.revjosh.com.)

Ellis — whose theatrical PR credits include the original productions of Into the Woods, Fences, 42nd Street, Nicholas Nickleby, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music and more — was ordained by the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in 2006. The choice was inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. "I had lived in New York for 20 years, then went to California for 12 years. When I watched 9/11, something inside me said come back to New York. I wanted to be part of the healing. I had no idea what that meant." Ellis was one of the chaplains present on the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center this past September.

Ellis is happy to be performing same-sex weddings in New York, but has hastened to add that he is interested in bringing any two people together. "I was in the Pride Parade and wore my ministerial robe. I held a sign that said 'Proud to initiate all New York weddings.' I'm not just proud to do same-sex weddings, I'm proud to do all weddings. That's the point."

As seen on revjosh.com, here are the newly revised lyrics:




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?

Sunrise, sunset,
Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,
Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset,
Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the years.
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.

What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?
Now they must learn from one another
Day by day.

They look so natural together.
Just like two newlyweds should be.
Is there a canopy in store for me?

Sunrise, sunset,
Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the years.
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears.


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

When did she get to be a beauty?
[Alternative: When did she get to be so handsome?]
When did they grow to be this tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset,
[Continues as above]