Call Redialed: Courter Simmons: Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman at The Duplex
I first met Courter Simmons four years ago when I saw him in an Off-Broadway show. I was so impressed by his talent, that I knew I had to interview him. We had a great time talking back then that I was super excited for the opportunity to interview Courter again, except this time around, we are focusing on his alter-ego, Cacophony Daniels. After a triumphant debut, Cacophony will be returning to The Duplex (61 Christopher Street at 7th Avenue) in NYC with her show Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman which will be taking place on June 10 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. This June, you are returning to The Duplex with your show Under The C: Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs of Howard Ashman. What made now the right time to bring this show back? Last month was the very first time I did the show…in fact, it was my first solo show EVER! The audience response was fantastic, we had a wonderful review on Bistroawards.com, and I had an amazing time! The folks who run the Duplex loved it too and wanted me to get the chance to do it again, so we’re striking while the iron’s hot.
2. It's been 4 years since we last spoke. So, we have to play catch up for a moment. How did you come up with the character Cacophony Daniels? Cacophony was born on the road when I was with Jersey Boys. We threw a big drag party and the whole cast showed up in drag. But people had been telling me almost all my life that drag was something I should do. So when I found myself back in New York between theatre jobs, I started creating looks. I sew; I learned how to style wigs, and the rest is history. As for Cacophony herself, the word literally means "a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds" and that pretty much sums her up. Not that I sing off-key or anything, but when people think of Cacophony I want them to think of a loud, overbearing noise that can’t be ignored.
3. What makes Cacophony stand-out from other drag performers? Cacophony is above all a live singer, and a good singer too (she’s won contests!). Not only that, she sings female songs in female keys. She’s a belty broad, in the style of Bette Middler, who is a huge influence. She also presents some pretty crazy looks, from a dress made out of 80 pairs of earrings to one made out of garden-gloves to a giant coin-purse! She’s also funny and is never mean - she can be good-heartedly bitchy, but that’s different. Don’t go to one of her shows expecting a pageant or an insult comic.
4. In Under The C, you are singing the songs of Howard Ashman. With so many composers out there, why did you want to do a show dedicated to his music? Paying tribute to Howard Ashman this year is especially important-this year marks the 25th anniversary of his passing due to complications from AIDS. But no matter how long it’s been, his music is STILL influencing us today. He STILL has music on Broadway (in Aladdin), and I haven’t been to a cabaret show or piano bar that HASN’T featured at least one of his songs. And don’t even get me started on his influence at Disney. Disney wouldn’t be what it is today without Howard’s guidance in the 80’s and early 90’s. (Watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty).
5. Two of my favorite Howard Ashman songs from The Little Mermaid are "Part of Your World" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls." When in your life did you want to be part of something that you weren't? and Was there ever a time in your life when you felt like a "Poor Unfortunate Soul"? Well listen, we all wanted to be on Broadway before we were. There are lots of talented performers who I respect so much who STILL haven’t been part of THAT world. And hell, I’m still trying to get back into it too! I think that song resonates so much because just about every human being has felt at sometime that they stood on the outside of a group, club, lifestyle, or world that they longed to join.
As far as being a "Poor Unfortunate Soul," I can sit around and feel sorry for myself with the best of ‘em. But when I really examine my life, I see that I’ve been VERY fortunate.
6. Another favorite Howard Ashman song I have is "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. When you need to escape and get away from the world, whether it be physical or mental, where is your "Somewhere That's Green"? Escaping into another world through a good piece of theatre is always my go-to. I love entering a world that someone else creates on stage and watching what happens there. When it’s done right, you forget all your own troubles and live someone else’s for a while, and that’s very rejuvenating.
7. A lesser known Howard Ashman song is "Hero" from his unfinished musical Babe. Who is your hero? I’ve got a couple of heroes. My Mom, who raised us on her own and has always supported me. My husband, who truly strives every day to make the world a better place for those in need. And Carol Channing.
8. Another Howard Ashman song people might not know is "The Very Best Week of Our Lives" from his musical Smile. What was the best week of your life so far? That’s a hard one! I guess I’d have to say the week of my wedding. We took our family and closest friends to a tropical island, explored and had fun, and in the midst of it all committed out lives to each other. It was magical.
9. One great thing about your show Under The C, is that people have the option to donate the cost of their ticket to Harlem United, a non-profit that provides primary care, substance use, and housing services to over 16,000 New Yorkers per year. What made you want to team up with this great organization? How have they helped you in your life? My husband began working at Harlem United this year after a long career in activism and advocacy. Like other groups that came about during the AIDS crisis, Harlem United was founded to fill a need that wasn’t being met at the time. In the decades since, it has evolved into a full-fledged community health center, providing a wide range of services, including primary care, counseling, support groups and even dental and housing services. I’ve never been a client, but I’ve seen the impact of the wonderful work that they do.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I try NOT to spread negativity on social media. I don’t comment or post about the Billionaire Idiot presidential candidate who-shall-not-be-named. When I have the impulse to put down a bitchy comment, I type it and then delete it before I even post it, just to get it out of my system. There’s enough of that crap out there. But if you’d like to see all the fun stuff I DO post, follow Cacophony Daniels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! ;)
You probably remember Courter from his recent appearance as a "Flying Dildo" on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or in his other life as cabaret drag-queen darling Cacophony Daniels. If not, you may have seen him in one of these other things: Broadway: Jersey Boys (Bob Crewe) National Tours: Jersey Boys (Joey, Frankie Valli u/s), Beauty and the Beast (LeFou), High School Musical. Off-Broadway: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; The Kid Who Would Be Pope (Ars Nova) Babes in Arms (Musicals Tonight). Favorite Regional: Jersey Boys Las Vegas, Chicago (Mary Sunshine), Singin’ in the Rain (Cosmo), A Chorus Line (Mike), Violet (Billy Dean/Virgil), Barnum (Tom Thumb). Television: The Mysteries of Laura, 2009 TONY Awards ("National Tour Frankie Valli"). Film: The Producers.