17 October 2002
I just found myself on Footlights.com. Actually,
if you do a Google search for "lyrics by Bev Sykes" it brings up this site. What
a strange feeling. You can actually order the CD from this site, though it's better to
order it from Youth Guardian Services so the
money actually goes to Steve and Jimmy.
When Steve was writing the songs for this new show, he said he needed a song about
Catholics (because Jimmy was raised Catholic) and that, as a Baptist, he couldn't relate
to being Catholic. (The show tells the story of their mutual lives, separately and
together, and since Jimmy once wanted to be a priest and Steve wanted to be a minister,
religion was a very big part of both of their lives.) He asked me to write lyrics about
the frustrations of being a Catholic. I'm not a lyricist. I've written some parody lyrics
for Gilbert & Sullivan songs, but never just writing lyrics.
He suggested that I take a Gilbert and Sullivan song, not tell him which song it was so he wouldn't be influenced when he wrote the melody,
and rewrite the lyrics to that, since that's something I know how to do. "Write about
anything. Birth control. Divorce. Confession. Anything."
I thought about it for a long time and thought about posible songs to use. I thought
about the beginning of my break with the church: Birth control. How frustrating it was, as
much as I loved them with all my heart, to realize that I was averaging a baby every year
and a half, with no apparent end in sight and there was--and still is--a ban on use of
birth control by the church. At that time I said that the day the Pope showed up at my
house to change diapers is the day I'd listen to what the church had to say about birth
control. So I took that as my starting point--how to write a song about birth control.
Then, while thinking about my favorite song from one of G&S's lesser known
operettas, "Utopia Limited," I thought of the phrase "the house is never
tidy and the pope won't change a didy." That did it. I giggled so much at the thought
of the pope showing up at my house to change diapers that the song took off from there.
With Steve's enthusiastic response ("That's great...more! more!") the
lyrics started to flow and before I knew it, "Us Catholics" was born. At that
time Steve thought he was writing a "God musical" and it hadn't really taken
solid form. When Jimmy began to write the play, it turned out to be the story of two
religious gay men who struggled with their relationship with God and found each other and
The song became Jimmy's, but since it's set in the years prior to the birth control
pill he had to revise my lyrics a bit. He sings it as a complaint song sung by the ladies
of the Rosary Society of St. Rocko's of Poughkeepsie, New York. I had written:
I cannot use the pill or else
My soul will rot in Hades
The IUD's a no-no
And no condoms for the ladies
That didn't work for the early '50s, so Jimmy changed it to
I cannot use a diaphragm
My soul will rot in Hades
No artificial methods
Only rhythm for the ladies
But the song then goes on to talk about the frustration of trying to explain to a
priest that you've come to the end of your rope, and having the priest essentially pat you
on the shoulder and say "God will provide." As Jimmy sings it (and as Steve
wrote the music) it's a very funny song and I'm so proud every time I hear it. I'm also
thrilled to have it on an official Original Cast Recording.
I started writing lyrics--or, more accurately, RE-writing lyrics, since I
don't consider myself a real lyric writer--I just turn someone else's song into something
funny--back in about 1994 when Gilbert and I collaborated on "Major General
Hospital," a funny show which made fun of the medical profession and was a big hit.
I love writing lyrics with Gilbert. We worked well together and seemed to always be on
the same page. We had our "positions." He had to sit at the computer, I sat at
the chair next to his desk (we tried reversing them, since I was the better typist, but we
couldn't seem to create that way). When I wasn't able to get to San Francisco to work with
him, we would do it on the phone (this was before e-mail, before the Internet. How he
would have LOVED the Internet!)
After he died (we did three shows together), a committee was formed to continue the
yearly original shows and I wrote several songs over the next few years.
Then my friend the very talented Steve Peithman (there are too many Steves in my
life!), asked me to collaborate with him on a show for the Davis Comic Opera Company. He
had in mind to combine "Pirates of Penzance" with "Casablanca" and
"The Pirates of Casablanca" was born. I wrote a song about a Hungarian gourmet
vegetarian chef to the tune of "Modern Major General." Things like:
At Wendy's or MacDonald's
on the hamburgers I quickly fell
I never missed a chance for all that
greasy food from Taco bell
A dozen ballpark franks
I could ingest with quite a lot of ease
I never, no I never looked
at lettuce, spinach, kale or peas.
I ate a lot of butter and
I drank a lot of alcohol
Till doctor said I had to work
to lower my cholesterol
...and that's how he became a vegetarian.
The show was a big hit with the Davis community, which had never seen anything quite
like it before. Five years later we followed it up with "A Streetcar Named
Mikado", which won the 1999 Elly award (Sacramento's equivalent of a Tony) for best new musical.
I don't fancy myself a real lyricist, but I sure have fun with these parodies. And I
love it that I've had a part in an original musical.
I hope there is more musical collaboration with both Steves.