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The Outrageous Fortunes of Cacophony Daniels

by Steve Desroches

Someday modern science will be able to explain the effect Bette Midler has on some gay boys. Just the sound of her voice is enough. Like a fabulous siren, when the Divine Miss M sings a song she can draw a boy onto the campy shoals off an island of sequins, Broadway razzmatazz, and double entendres, changing the trajectory of his life for good with promises that indeed boys need not drown in the world of footballs and dumbbells, but can rest on the shores of tap shoes and Shirley Bassey’s 1968 album This Is My Life. True, Midler has fans of all sexual orientations and gender identities, but it’s undeniable that she has “the sparkle,” that ability to communicate telepathically with gay boys all around the world quietly spawning her own campy army camp.

Just ask Courter Simmons. When he was ten years old, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, he went to see Oliver & Company, an animated Disney retelling of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, featuring dogs in the title roles. One character, a vain and spoiled poodle named Georgette, instantly grabbed his attention upon the first catty bark. The voice behind the poodle in question was of course Midler’s, and Simmons was hooked. Soon after, he begged his parents for VHS copies of Big Business and Ruthless People, and then several years later he camped out on the floor, guarding the remote control to watch the CBS broadcast of Gypsy starring Midler as Mama Rose.

There is of course nothing magical going on, even though it feels like it. It’s just the story of a boy whose inspirational role model is a woman, something that is still frowned upon in our culture, so a boy needs to fight to keep that personal hero. And for some, it ends up being a career. For Simmons, Midler as a distant mentor led him to the Broadway stage, television sitcoms, and into the world of cabaret with his drag persona Cacophony Daniels, who will be making her Provincetown debut this week at the Pilgrim House with Wanna Bette?  his homage to Midler.

“She just has this energy about her,” says Simmons from his home in New York City. “I just wanted to emulate her. She was so very over the top. When you’re a kid that kind of presence just gets implanted into the core of your mind.”

Throughout most of his life’s work, drag was the farthest thing from his mind as a direction to go in. He moved to New York from California to pursue his Broadway dreams in 2001 when, in addition to the human tragedy of 9/11, the effects of the terrorist attack decimated the theater business in the city as show after show closed due to a sharp decline in tourism. However, in 2003 he landed a role in the off-Broadway production of My Favorite Year, and then two years later fulfilled his goal and nabbed a spot in the original Broadway production of Jersey Boys, followed by a national tour. It was a thrill.

Theater is a tough business, though, and any stage actor will tell you that you have to be not only persistent, but resilient and resourceful, as gigs can come and go and the time in between is impossible to predict. So how to still work on stage and keep practicing the craft takes some ingenuity, and for Simmons drag seemed the perfect way to do that. It dawned on him while touring with Jersey Boys.  Tours can be boring as you hop from city to city, knowing no one else but the cast in places completely unfamiliar. So the traveling cast became tight-knit and would plan parties for off nights. One evening, while in Minneapolis, the gay guys in the cast threw a mandatory drag party at the Gay 90’s, a popular gay club, on the night of the season finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Everyone in the cast and crew came in drag, and as the hosts, the gaggle of gays performed. That’s when Cacophony Daniels was born.

“Of course every Halloween I’ve been doing drag for my whole life, as when you’re gay that’s what you do,” laughs Simmons. “Cacophony became a way to make ends meet. Drag became the best day job of sorts for me. It’s something that I started to do on the side, and it’s become just a big thing for me. It’s really taken off.”

The timing was perfect. With the phenomenon that is RuPaul’s Drag Race drag performers have unprecedented opportunities, whether they’ve been on the show or not. And while the show may have contestants lip-synching for their lives, in many locales with long established drag scenes, discerning audiences want all-live vocals, especially in New York and here in Provincetown. Simmons created full drag cabaret shows in New York, including the Bistro-Award-winning Under the “C”: Cacophony Daniels Sings Howard Ashman, Bedraggled Broadway co-starring her drag pal Sutton Lee Seymour, and Wanna Bette? which she notes is not an impersonation show, but rather her own interpretations of the canon of Midler.

It’s more than just the fickle nature of show business that led Simmons to drag. His femininity and high voice make landing roles even harder. He laughs that anytime he speaks to a customer service representative on the phone he gets, “Yes, ma’am” and “Thank you, ma’am.”  Performing in drag removes those limits that strict gender roles enforce, creating a marvelous blur, which opens an audience’s collective mind to appreciate the talent, first and foremost. After only performing in drag for three years, Simmons laughs with delight at the thought of making his debut in Provincetown, a town he says is where “all the drag legends” go.

“It’s the Broadway of drag,” says Simmons. “You have to be in the upper echelon of drag to even be considered to go there. It’s such an important place for live performance. That’s why I made certain to have a live band for my shows in Provincetown. If you’re lucky enough to go to Provincetown you can’t waste the opportunity.”

Cacophony Daniels presents Wanna Bette? at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Wednesday, August 14 and Friday, August 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($30/$40) are available at the box office and online at For more information call 508.487.6424.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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