Musical theater star Courter Simmons made a name for himself via several incarnations of “Jersey Boys,” including the Broadway version and a televised Tonys performance. When he discovered drag, SHE became an unstoppable force overnight in NYC nightlife. In the process, she has truly become a fan favorite of many of the city’s other top drag queens: no easy feat! Let’s give a loud, deafening applause for live singing showboat Cacophony Daniels!
Thotyssey: Hey Cacophony! Valentines Day has come and gone: were you a fan?
Cacophony Daniels: Hey there! Yes, I love Valentines Day. I’m very lucky to have a permanent Valentine: my amazing husband Jason. He’s incredibly romantic, and spoils me every day of the year, but on Valentines Day he’s extra sweet (I can hear some of you barfing, I know). But I love any holiday that’s about love–even if it was created by greeting card companies.
Oh it was great! She came in from a haunted house looking like she’d just murdered the Queen of Hearts, and she was terrific. So much fun!
You usually perform there monthly, and you’re gonna be back at Albatross again this weekend, right?
Yes! I’ll be there this Saturday night, February 18th, at 11pm!
As someone who had already made a name for yourself on the stage, did you ever imagine back when you started being Cacophony Daniels that she would be gigging all over the place today?
NO! Cacophony started out at a party, and then really picked up after she won the very first night of Sutton Lee Seymour’s “Sing Queen!” competition at Barracuda. She’s always been a great creative outlet for me between theatre gigs, but now she’s become a force of her own! I’ve been saying lately, she’s the best day job I ever had.
You’re a native Californian?
Yep! Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. Moved to New York in 2001.
And did you want to be on the stage since day one?
Pretty much. My first grade teacher saw something in me, and entered me in the talent show dancing (freestyle, no choreography) to “Billie Jean” in a red, gold sequin trimmed vest she made me. I’ve been up there ever since!
That sounds incredible! Did you go to school for performing arts?
I did, but what really put me on the path was a fantastic children’s theatre program called Rainbow Theatre (very appropriate, we all ended up big ol’ ‘mo’s) that was run at our local community center. That’s where I started singing (I had no idea I could) and dancing.
When I graduated high school (where we didn’t do musicals, only Shakespeare with the odd modern comedy sprinkled in), I went to college at Santa Clara University, where I majored in Theatre and Dance with a minor in Musical Theatre.
You’ve had many stage roles, but arguably your biggest ones have been as Frankie Vali (the lead) in the touring company of Jersey Boys–and then you had a supporting role in the Broadway production. So what is it like touring with a show? Thrilling, disorienting, tedious, all of the above?
All of the above! I think if you’re going to be in a long-running show, touring is the way to go. If you’re in a sit-down company, on Broadway or anywhere else, the show can become very routine. But on the road, every three weeks you’re in a new place, a new house, with new crew (who don’t know the show, so that’s exciting) and new audiences who are going to react differently to the same show you’ve been doing. It’s also fun to meet the different gay communities all over the country.
I bet! So, what exactly was your whole run with the all the versions of Jersey Boys?
I was on the First National Tour for five years, then did the second National Tour for two weeks, then was on Broadway for three months, then was in Vegas for seven months, then was back on Broadway for the final two months of the run.
Wow. That’s everything. So if your hear a Four Seasons song on the radio now, it must make you twitch a little!
Yep! And the thing about that music is, it’s everywhere. My husband and I have been on vacations in places like Curacao and Germany, and you get into the rental car and what’s on the radio? “You’re just too good to be true…”
I bet you couldn’t even watch the movie version!
I did! I had so many friends in it, and I had too see what they did with it!
Understood! One more amazing thing you got to do in regards to the show was sing in a live televised Tonys performance! That must’ve been an insanely thrilling experience.
Oh yes! That was the thrill of a lifetime to be sure. Standing out there singing with Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters in the audience looking at you, and knowing millions of people were watching at home LIVE, was exhilarating and terrifying!
So, you said earlier that Cacophony was born at a party?
Yep. On tour, the gays threw a drag party for the Drag Race season 3 finale. Everyone came in drag: crew guys, musicians, everybody. The gays all went full out–carving hips, learning how to block out our brows, doing a lip-sync number, and creating names. Cacophony was perfect because I was always teased for being so loud when I sang backstage:
You looked great! Does a theater background help a queen with the aesthetics of drag, as far as makeup and wardrobe, or is that ultimately a different animal?
There are a lot of things that translate, for sure. I learned how to do theatrical makeup doing shows, and a lot of the same rules apply. I also learned how to sew as part of my technical requirement in college, and that certainly helps in creating new outfits.
And performance is performance, whether for a theatre seating 6000, or a gay bar with 50 drunk homos. You have to know your audience, of course, but the fundamentals are the same.
That’s why New York queens are so fantastic: most of us came here to pursue theatre, and fell into drag in one way or another. But we have a theatrical foundation.
Since you were “born” during Season 3 of Drag Race, you must be excited about Season 9, right? Any ridiculously premature predictions?
OMG, so excited! I know Alexis Michelle a bit, and she loves a musical – so of course I’m rooting for her. But I also think Charlie Hide is going to be great, and I’m super stoked someone that old is on the show. It gives me hope that I can make it on in 15 years or so!
What do you get out of performing a drag gig that you might not get out of scripted Broadway?
I love the spontaneity of a drag show. You’re in a bar, where people have come to drink and be loud and have fun–and sometimes they yell out, or participate in a way you won’t expect. Or, someone spills a drink on the sound system and you have to ad-lib for 10 minutes. And the best thing about a drag show: you don’t have to audition!
Did you know Sutton before you performed in that Barracuda competition?
I had met her at a going-away party for another friend, when I was in drag (for the party) and she wasn’t (it was her night off).
And now you’re holding down the fort for her, hosting Broadway Mondays at Hardware while she is doing her show in Mexico for the season. You’ve been a big hit so far–how are you enjoying the weekly grind of drag hosting?
Thank you! I’m loving it. This is my first crack at a regular show, and I’m having a blast–especially with the regulars who come back every week. We’ve created a little family, and it’s so nice to see them again and again. It’s a Broadway night, so it’s right up my alley.
And the weekly guest stars from Broadway shows–are these all your friends?
So far! I’m very lucky to have made so many talented friends working on shows all over. They weren’t all on Broadway with me, but they’ve all been on Broadway and their talent proves that.
Do you ever worry about having to balance drag gigs with auditions and stage roles?
Every day! After a show, I’m usually vocally exhausted (because I sing the whole show live, no lip syncing!), and if I have an audition the next day it’s a struggle. Even when I don’t have a show or an audition, I’m preparing for the next one, and that means practicing songs–which of course means more singing! So I have to pace myself.
Tell us about the project your being recognized for .
I did a cabaret show called Under the ‘C’, which was a tribute to Howard Ashman and featured music from all of his shows and some more obscure material. It was so much fun to bring songs from Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors, Smile and more to life, and pay tribute to Howard and his amazing career. He still has music on Broadway today, and has a new movie coming out this year–and it’s been 26 years since he died. That tells you how brilliant he was.
Congratulations! And, you have something else big coming up.
Yes! Along with my weekly appearance at Broadway Mondays at Hardware and monthly shows at Albatross, I’m doing a brand new cabaret at Feinstein’s/54 Below on March 30th (11:30pm) to kick off their new drag series, #Dragat54.
The show is called “Wanna Bette?” and is a tribute to the fabulous Bette Midler. I’ll be singing all your favorite songs from her shows and films, in all her original keys! Tickets start at $15, and can be bought at 54below.com. Use discount code DIVINE3 for $3 off!
What’s your favorite Bette song?
Oh gosh, who can pick a favorite? I’d say it’s a tie between “The Rose” and “Stuff Like That There”… and “Otto Titsling.”
I love Otto! That brings me to my final question: what would be your dream role to play on stage someday?
I think Cacophony would make a fantastic Mama Rose, or Auntie Mame. Why, are you casting?
If only! But you’ll get there! Thanks Cacophony!
This season, Cacophony Daniels hosts “Broadway Mondays” weekly at Hardware (10pm), and generally performs Saturdays monthly at Albatross (11pm). Click here for a full list of upcoming appearances. Cacophony can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.