This review of Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman
Written & Performed by Courter Simmons as Cacophony Daniels
Directed by Jonathan Hadley
Music Direction & Additional Vocals by Kyle Branzel
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Under The 'C': Cacophony Daniels Sings The Songs Of Howard Ashman is a perfect cabaret show that should be seen by everyone on the planet! It is extremely entertaining, informative and humorous. Cacophony Daniels is a bright new star whose tribute to the songs of Howard Ashman can provide guidance to all cabaret performers looking for advice on how to improve their own shows so people will actually be pleased they spent money to see it. Cacophony Daniels was immaculately dressed in a stylish wig and a green gown, which at the appropriate moment was transformed into something sleeker and sexier. The charismatic, good-looking and talented Kyle Branzel was an excellent choice for musical director. Although Cacophony has a beautiful and powerful voice, Kyle added his own special vocal talents to a number of the songs presented. Jonathan Hadley also deserves credit for his simple, yet effective, direction. By the end of the show, you will be singing along to "Suddenly, Seymour" from Little Shop Of Horrors and possibly shoving a small, stuffed fish or ocean mammal into your purse, rucksack or pants pocket.
Howard Elliott Ashman was born in Baltimore on May 17, 1950. He first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) before earning his MFA from Indiana University in 1974. After graduating, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. Upon his return, he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. He and Alan Menken collaborated on Little Shop Of Horrors, with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. Ashman was the director, lyricist, and book writer for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (including the song Disneyland with music by Marvin Hamlisch). Also in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay for the Frank Oz-directed film adaptation of Little Shop Of Horrors. Howard Ashman & Barry Mann wrote "Once Upon A Time In New York City" for Walt Disney's 1988 animated buddy comedy Oliver & Company. While at Disney, he was told about The Little Mermaid, another project they had been working on for a number of years, Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all the songs for that film, including "Under The Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls". Three of their songs ended up in Aladdin but "Call Me A Princess" was cut. Ashman also wrote the lyrics (music by Jonathan Sheffer) for "Song For A Hunter College Graduate" from the musical Diamonds, and "Growing Boy", a song from the unproduced musical Babe about the life of Babe Ruth.In collaboration with Alan Menken, Howard Ashman completed the lyrical work on Beauty & The Beast before succumbing to AIDS-related complications on March 14, 1991. Beauty & The Beast was released mere months after his death and the film is dedicated to him.
Since this performance was a benefit for Harlem United, which started as a group dedicated to individuals suffering from AIDS, Cacophony Daniels put the audience in the mood by singing Howard Ashman's melancholy song "Sheridan Square" (Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken). She explained that Harlem United provides quality HIV/AIDS care, prevention, housing and clinical services in a safe environment. To learn more and to donate to this great organization, visit http://www.harlemunited.org/learn/about/ This moment of reflection on all who have been lost to AIDS ends on a positive note as the last line of the lyrics of "Sheridan Square" is "we can make it until the sun comes up - and it will - over Sheridan Square." The highlights of the show included Cacophony Daniels singing a medley of songs Howard Ashman wrote about food, her exhibiting a less-than-ladylike side of her when singing "Song For A Hunter College Graduate" (Baltimore Blows!), and "Growing Boy" (sung in an ever-so-suggestive way as a duet with Kyle Branzel). Just when you think Cacophony Daniels has hit her high point in the show, she climbs yet another mountain to top herself. Cacophony Daniels brings joy to all she does! You will love her!
Courter Simmons, the inspiration behind Cacophony Daniels, hails from Milpitas, California where he first started performing with Milpitas Rainbow Theatre, a children's theatre group. His first professional production was at the American Musical Theatre San Jose where he played one of the child singers in Evita. He was later hired to host a local children's television show, Kid's Clubhouse, on San Jose's KTEH Channel 54. While earning his BA in Theatre and Dance from Santa Clara University, he continued to perform in various musicals, plays and dance concerts. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City and was quickly cast (and earned his Equity Card) in Theatreworks/USA's national tour of Reading Rainbow. Courter made his Off-Broadway debut in If You Give A Mouse A Cookie at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Soon thereafter, he joined the cast of the National Tour of Disney's Beauty & The Beast as LeFou, Gaston's silly singing sidekick. He was subsequently cast as Joey in the First National Tour Of Jersey Boys, which opened in San Francisco. After touring with Jersey Boys for over two years, understudying the role of Frankie Valli, Courter was chosen for the great honor of representing the tour as Frankie at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards, which aired live nationwide on CBS. In 2011, after almost 5 years on the road with Jersey Boys, Courter was given the opportunity to join the Broadway cast of the show as record producer Bob Crewe. Now, in the drag persona of Cacophony Daniels, Courter Simmons brings New York City audiences Under The 'C', which honors the contributions Howard Ashman made to musical theatre on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of his death in 1991. For more information on Courter Simmons, visit his website at www.courtersimmons.com