The premiere studio recording of DRAG: The Musical releases May 13 via PEG Records, Killingsworth Recording Company, and Craft Recordings/Concord Theatricals.
The musical, which tells the story of two rival drag bars that go head-to-head for survival amidst financial troubles, is co-written and conceived by songwriter-producer Tomas Costanza, celebrity song stylist Ashley Gordon, and RuPaul's Drag Race star Alaska Thunderfuck, who also stars in the new album. Emmy nominee Spencer Liff directs.
Joining Thunderfuck in the album's cast are Broadway alum Max Von Essen, Peppermint, and Nick Adams, along with Bob the Drag Queen, Divina De Campo, Fortune Feimster, Ginger Minj, Jack Rodman, Jamie Torcellini, Jujubee, Lagoona Bloo, Margaret Cho, Michelle Visage, and Monét X Change. Alaska, Lagoona Blue, Monét X Change, and Nick Adams will also perform scenes and songs from the musical at three upcoming workshop performances at The Bourbon Room in Los Angeles June 10 and 11.
Thunderfuck, Costanza, and Gordon walk us through the inspiration behind the songs of DRAG: The Musical in this exclusive track-by-track breakdown:
1. "Welcome to The Fishtank"
Tomas Costanza: The question I’m asked most frequently is “What’s the hardest part about writing a musical?” I always respond with the same answer. “There are two hardest parts: starting it and finishing it.” That notion especially comes into play regarding the first and last songs of the production. It takes a great deal of insight imagining how to make an audience connect with the vibe of a show from the moment the curtain goes up. Obviously, Justin, Ashley and I knew the first song had to be a banger. There was no disputing that we had to write something that would inspire everyone in the room to want to move right from the jump. Most shows wait till the last song of the performance to really get the theatregoers involved. Our vision was to go against the framework of traditional musical theatre and achieve audience participation from the first note. We also had to make sure we incorporated grit. The trademark electric guitars heard throughout the soundtrack are the bedrock of the harmonic structure, which in essence solidifies the punk rock attitude that encompass the lyrics. “Welcome to The Fishtank” is without a doubt the embodiment of all compositions on the album.
2. "She’s All That"
TC: Growing up, two of my all time favorite songs were “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO and “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick. Besides the fact that the melodies are hypnotizing and the hooks are catchy as hell, the musical sound beds on both tracks are captivating. Add in some slick production and a few flawless performances and you got yourself a couple of timeless recordings. I never truly understood why I loved these songs so much until I was hired to re-record them. I finally discovered that the magic that manifests these tunes into ear candy is that the driving, four on the floor beat actually has a slight swing. It’s the swing that makes everything so unique. When it was time to write “She’s All That,” we encountered an interesting challenge. “She’s All That” was sandwiched in between the fast driving, disco-esque showstopper “Welcome to the Fishtank” and the retro jazzy “Cathouse Fever.” Essentially, we needed to write a transitional song that had high energy juxtaposed with jazz elements. I always wanted to snipe the vibe of “Mr. Blue Sky” and “I Want You to Want Me” and this was our chance. We incorporated the swing-infused momentous four on the floor beat with melodic accelerated melodies which served as a perfect passage into “Cathouse Fever.”
3. "Cathouse Fever"
TC: “Cathouse Fever” is the introduction to the sultry queens of The Cathouse. Our main objective was to paint a clear picture that the The Cathouse girls were sexy, seductive and provocative. Most of the studio recording is very raw and rock-punk influenced, so in order to make The Cathouse girls stand out, we knew we had to characteristically make the music very different. As die-hard Fosse fans, we thought it would be a great idea to stylize The Cathouse queens compositions with a Cabaret-esque flair.
4. "Queen Kitty"
Alaska Thunderfuck: “Queen Kitty” is my favorite song. It’s the entrance song every Drag queen wants in her life. It’s kind of Freddie Mercury, kind of Sweet Transvestite. It’s a rock-and-roll fierce-ass bitch anthem and it’s really fun to sing.
5. "The Accounting Song"
TC: Ashley and I are massive fans of the '60s mod group Dave Dee Dozey Beaky Mick & Tich. They have an incredible song called “Bend It," which has a very interesting feel that uses steady tempo accelerations and decelerations throughout the track that make the musicality absolutely mesmerizing. We always dreamed of using this technique in a composition of our own and we finally had an excuse to do so. For “The Accounting Song,” Justin and Ashley had the idea of rattling off as many “DRAG” items, necessities, and accessories as possible within a three-minute timeframe. In the musical, this song is performed by the straight-laced, conservative accountant Tom Hutchinson. Our goal was to create anxiety both lyrically and musically, thus the accelerated-decelerated tempo map brought an undeniable slapstick comedic tension to the track.
6. "Drag is Expensive"
TC: This is the song that started it all. “Drag is Expensive” is the first track we wrote and it totally set the tone for the entire musical.
Ashley Gordon: We couldn’t write a musical about drag without dedicating a song to the almighty wig. A queen’s hair is their crowning glory, and often the defining factor that pulls a look together. It’s no surprise that Ginger, Jujubee, and Peppermint brought all of their enthusiasm and sass to the track. They know a thing or two about wig magic.
7. "Gay As Hell"
AG: Jerry is everyone’s favorite drunken gay sailor and he’s thrilled to tell you about every romp (and rump) he’s encountered over his many years as a well-connected socialite. The lyrics are inspired by a man I met at a gay bar in NYC years ago. He was drunk as a skunk rattling off names of old Hollywood royalty who were “playing it straight.” Wherever that guy is, I owe him a drink.
8. "Gloria Schmidt"
AT: “Gloria Schmidt” is named after a character on The Golden Girls whose only line is “Gloria Schmidt… IRS.” She’s the IRS agent who is auditing Blanche Devereaux, and the joke is that Blanche was expecting a male agent that she could seduce to get out of paying back taxes. So when we were naming the fastidious IRS agent who delivers the bad news of Alexis’ financial disaster, her name came to my mind.
9. "Out of Your League"
AT: “Out of Your League” is a Kitty Galloway song where she is taking the time to explain why she’s so much better than everyone else—which is pure Kitty.
10. "Miriam Mintz"
AG: Miriam only has one short-and-sweet song on the album, so it was super important that it have comedic impact from the jump. Margaret Cho brought the self-aware hoity toity vibe Miriam needed during our recording session and we finished in 15 minutes.
11. "She’s Such a Bitch"
TC: “She’s Such a Bitch” defines this song in more ways than one. This composition literally took us an entire year to write. “She’s Such a Bitch” is the final scene of the first act in which we expose the backstory of Kitty Galloway and Alexis Gillmore’s tumultuous relationship. We broke bones writing the dialogue for months until one day, Justin suggested we add a track to the discourse to make the scene more exciting. Producer Xander Rushie was in the studio next to us so we asked him to put a track together. Things came together rather quickly after that. When all was said and done, the original song was nine minutes long. It took us another 3 weeks to cut the fat.
12. "It’s So Pretty"
AG: It’s so wild to know that Nick and Jack were NOT in the same room when recording this song! Their energies are literally playing ping pong with each other here. In this song Alexis is like the Willy Wonka of drag, guiding Brendan through a world of glam and fascinations. Musically, we were very much inspired by the manic whimsy of “What’s This” in Nightmare Before Christmas.
13. "I’m Just Brendan"
AG: This is one of the most important songs in the musical. Knowing that, we rewrote it about 22 times. It’s meant to capture the “aha” moment every queer person experiences when they didn’t have the vocabulary or emotional understanding to make sense of their gender exploration. Jack expertly manifested the shame, confusion, and yearning to be understood the song called for. I still cry a little every time I listen to it.
14. "We Need Money"
AG: This is an anthem we all can get behind around the first of the month, and it’s the first time we see the girls get down to business and collect some coin. They do so by having a giant drag sale and EVERYONE gets involved, even little Brendan who's instructed to scam people out of spare change—my favorite part of the song, truly.
15. I Don’t Like You But I Like You
TC: “I Don’t Like You But I Like You” is definitely the sleeper track on the album. This song is a total showstopper. What’s ironic is that we almost didn’t include the composition in the musical. We ended up writing it months after we officially finished the book. Director Spencer Liff suggested that we needed a musical number to solidify the sexual tension between mild-mannered accountant Tom Hutchinson and the feisty manager of The Fishtank, Dixie Coxworth. At this point in the development, Justin, Ashley and I were completely tapped on ideas. Our creative juices were running on fumes. However, throughout the writing process whenever we needed a collective injection of inspiration, we would reference some of the core influences that encouraged us to write DRAG: The Musical. Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Sex Pistols, The Who’s TOMMY, and of course, Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell. A large dose of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" was all we needed to get the motor running, but the astonishing performances by Tony nominee Max Von Essen and Emmy Award winner Michelle Visage lifted the track to a ridiculous level.
16. "Girls Like Us"
AT: “Girls Like Us” is a song about the strength and power of the Trans community. In a society that has been unbelievably cruel to our community, this song is a lamentation, but it is also a call to arms, and a declaration of survival and perseverance against all odds.
17. "Jerry’s Dead"
TC: This song must always be cranked to eleven!! It’s no secret that this is my favorite track on the album. Being a metal head/punk rocker from Long Island, I can never get enough of it. Sex Pistols meet The Book of Mormon. YES!!!!!!!
18. "Two Bitches Are Better Than One"
AT: “Two Bitches Are Better Than One” follows in the tradition of songs like “Bosom Buddies” [from Mame], where it’s two frenemies who are trying really hard to be nice but just can’t help tearing each other to shreds.
19. "Real Queens"
AT: “Real Queens” is a response to the idea that Drag queens are all inherently bitchy, catty, and nasty. The reality that I’ve seen is that actual Drag queens everywhere support one another fiercely, and create a tightly knit community that is a loyal, loving family.
20. "Welcome to The Catfish"
TC: This is the point in the show that anyone and everyone in the theatre must absolutely get out of their seats. No one should be sitting. And if you are, Kitty Galloway will hunt you down.
21. "Brendan is His Name"
AG: This is Brendan’s “coming out” celebration as a confident kid who carries himself like a mini Bowie-meets-Elton. The audience has been waiting for this moment the entire musical and we’re all ready to experience Brendan make his big debut, so the production had to be larger than life. Most of Brendan’s songs are a bit on the timid side, but Jack knew he had to push Brendan out of his comfort zone in this performance.
22. "Get It Together"
AT: “Get It Together” is great. It speaks to the idea that really the only way for us to “make it” in the world is by opening ourselves up to one another, and working together in a vulnerable and authentic way. This song is so fun.