Interview: Drag Icons Take Center Stage with DRAG: THE MUSICAL

Alaska Thunderfuck and Tomas Costanza chat about their sickening new stage musical

By: May. 13, 2022
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Interview: Drag Icons Take Center Stage with DRAG: THE MUSICAL The worlds of drag and Broadway are about to collide in a major way with Drag: The Musical- a full-length, herstory-making show from the minds of songwriters Tomas Costanza and Ashley Gordon, and drag superstar Alaska Thunderfuck. Today, the studio cast recording was released in advance of several forthcoming live event workshops this June at The Bourbon Room in Los Angeles.

Directed by Broadway veteran Spencer Liff, Drag: The Musical (The Studio Recording) features the talents of many beloved RuPaul's Drag Race icons (including Michelle Visage, Bob The Drag Queen, Peppermint, Monét X Change, Jujubee, Ginger Minj, and Divina De Campo), as well as Broadway favorites Nick Adams and Max von Essen.

BroadwayWorld just checked with Alaska and Tomas, who spill the tea on the show's inspiration and plans for the future!

I understand that this project has been a long time in the making. Where did the idea come from and how did it develop?

T: I live in California now, but I grew up in New York. For the past decade, every year I go back to New York for a week just to see all of the Broadway shows. About six years ago, I remember walking out of the theatre after seeing Kinky Boots feeling so inspired and thinking, "I think I can do that!" At that point I had been in business with David Charpentier from PEG Management, who represents Alaska, for six or seven years. We had eight #1 albums, and I just thought that the next culmination of what we could do together was a musical.

Alaska came up with the idea of the plot, but then we broke bones in the studio for about two years on the first draft.

What was the writing process and collaboration like?

A: We started out already being familiar with each other because we had been making music together for a really long time. My first ever song that I did as a drag queen is called "Ru Girl" and we worked on it together.

[For this project] we started with the music- that was our entry point and that's where our ideas really flowed. We had a language together. Then we were like, "Oh damn! We have to write words now!" That was the more challenging part. There were times that we had to completely scrap pieces and start over. When we eventually put it on its feet, I think it will still be living and breathing and changing... but the music is really the heart of the piece.

Interview: Drag Icons Take Center Stage with DRAG: THE MUSICAL
Tomas Costanza and Alaska Thunderfuck. Photo Credit: Albert Sanchez

You can hear all of the Broadway inspirations in this music- Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rent, Kinky Boots... and yet all of the songs have their own vibe. Was that an aim from the get go?

T: That took years to figure out. We were always thinking from the beginning that we wanted to make the transitions between songs different enough to keep people's ears perked up. Ashley and I actually come from a world of writing commercials- we're jingle writers. We wanted to bring that sensibility to a musical. We wanted them to be short and sweet and like ear candy, so that people could sing along. But we also wanted to keep the story moving. And that's why it took us two years to get the framework of the songs right before we even got into the book. Then we took another three years to develop it fully.

You assembled an amazing cast... did you have a lot of them in mind when you were writing?

A: Certain characters we definitely saw in our minds. Like the Michelle Visage character, we were like, "We're writing this for Michelle Visage..." She is the cis woman who lives in the drag queen world, and we love her. Otherwise we got really lucky because we're friends with a lot of really great, talented people. We are really grateful.

And aside from the all-star drag cast, involving Max von Essen and Nick Adams was a genius touch...

T: Alaska essentially invited all of her friends and said "Hey, we're doing this thing. We don't know what's gonna happen with it, but it's cool!" And everyone was in. But we always knew that we needed the Broadway talent to balance it out... I mean, we want to go to Broadway! We want this to get to both sides of the aisle and for everyone to be able to enjoy it.

Wayne Cilento actually signed on to be our director first. Then he found out that he was working on the revival of Dancin' and had to pull out. I have the same agent as Spencer Liff, who hooked us up and we hit it off immediately. Spencer had worked with both Max and Nick before and said, "These guys are amazing. Let's see if they can do it." And they were both in! Then we have this 11 year-old little boy named Jack Rodman, who we discovered in Florida. He is also a magnificent talent. He's gonna be a superstar!

Bringing in the Broadway talent with the queens and comedians like Margaret Cho and Fortune Feimster really rounded out the album.

Spencer seems like the perfect person to have at the helm...

T: Spencer is the glue that holds the project together. He is a pure talent. He brought so much to the table. For the first time last week we went to venue for our upcoming shows. To be in that room and to watch Spencer in action for an hour, I was so excited that my heart was pounding. He is bringing this to another level that I didn't even know existed.

Do you each have a favorite song?

A: Well, mine is easy. It's "Queen Kitty." Kitty Calloway is the head bitch in charge. It's a really good song and it's gonna be so much fun to sing.

Were you always Kitty?

A: Yes. I knew I wanted to play the mean, bitchy one. [Laughs]

T: And I think my favorite song is "Jerry's Dead". I'm a Long Island, metalhead, punk rocker at heart. I didn't think I'd be able to fit a straight punk song into this musical, but it worked so perfectly. That song is like Sex Pistols meets The Book of Mormon.

How has musical theatre impacted your life as an artist?

A: I am an extremely gay person, but wildly, I was never really into musicals. Early in my drag career and in my coming-of-age I was just like, "I don't get it..." When I discovered musicals like Hair and Godspell and Hedwig, where it's kinda like through the back door musical theatre, then I got it. Now I love all musicals. I mean, give me Hello, Dolly! any day. It took me a while though. I needed that entry point of finding music that really connected to me.

T: At 8 years old I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my mom. Obviously it's magnificent, colorful story, but I didn't know why I loved it so much. Then my brother showed me a movie called Bugsy Malone, and once again, I was like, "Why is this so different?" Then I saw Grease and Rocky Horror Picture Show and I finally discovered what a musical really was.

When I was in high school, I studied with professors from Juilliard and went on to go to the high school of performing arts. I always loved theatre, but I never thought I'd be good enough to write a musical because there are so many moving parts! I went on to become a writer and producer, and later on that hunger to write a musical just kept coming back.

So what are the next steps? Will fans get to see this onstage soon?

T: We're doing three shows on June 10-11 at the Bourbon Room in Hollywood, California. It's kind of like a record release party. We're performing select songs and scenes from the musical. We have a lot of special guests and it's going to be massive! And then we have more coming up, but I can't talk about that yet. It's all in the works.

And if Broadway came knocking....?

T: We will be there very soon, I hope!

What about licensing? Do you expect that the show will eventually be made available for others to perform?

T: Yes, we are talking to Concord Theatricals right now. Everything is in the works and we're so excited about it.

Who are you hoping this album reaches and what are you hoping they take from it?

A: It's really for everybody. The story talks about how this group of drag queens sees the world of drag in their own way and the bar across the street sees it a totally different way. In the end, they find out that they have no way to survive except to work together. I think that's a universal theme, especially as polarized as the world is right now. We're not gonna make it as a species unless we figure out that we're all in this together. Luckily, that's a really great message... and it's wrapped up in beer-soaked $1 bills. [Laughs]

T: When we started writing this we made a pact that we would meet in the middle. We could have made it more oriented to the gay community, but we decided to make it for everyone. A lot of the Broadway people who we have been speaking to think that this is just a musical about a bunch of drag queens running around with their wigs on fire. It isn't. This musical opens your heart- there is no hiding from that. We really hope that everyone will enjoy it. That's why it took us six years to finish!

Listen to the full album below and click here for more streaming options.