In the last few years, the trend in drag has been that actors trained in musical theater who might not always be swept up into Broadway shows learn that they can tuck their business and throw on a dress and find that they’re suddenly successful on the club scene. And they prefer it! These queens can certainly lip sync for their lives, but they also know from their training how to sing live and put on quite a performance while doing so.
In NYC, drag stars like Chelsea Piers, Paige Turner, Holly Dae, Bootsie Lefaris, Sutton Lee Seymour, Marti Gould Cummings, Cacophany Daniels, Jackie Cox, Boudoir LaFleur, and Alexis Michelle are among the diverse talents who fit this bill. They’re Broadway stars in the body of drag acts, and some of them get on Broadway—as men—so their talent gets spread all over the place.
One of the shining examples of this phenomenon is Stephanie’s Child, a drag trio consisting of theater-trained Jan Sport (Charlie Mantione), Lagoona Bloo (David Brumfield), and Rosé (Ross McCorkell), who are extraordinary singers and personalities, especially in tandem with each other. I caught their show at Yotel’s Green Room 42 and they dazzled, coming off like Charlie’s Angels meets the Power Puff Girls via the Ice Capades, with sherbet-colored outfits and hair, tight harmonies, lively choreography, and fun banter. With some judicious pruning, I swear these gals would be ready for their own Broadway run. (Irony of ironies.)
You may have seen Stephanie’s Child on The Voice in the Season 13 finale featuring Jessie J and drag singer Nedra Belle. They were also on the bill with Alyssa Edwards for London Pride and they opened for Alaska Thunderfuck’s one-person show in the same town. I just talked to Jan Sport for some insight into why the drag vocal arena is getting so crowded these days. Impressively, she never once lip synced during our interview.
Hi, Jan. How did you form Stephanie’s Child?
Rosé won cycle four of Lady Liberty—the largest drag competition in New York City—and I had won cycle three. [Organizer] Vincent Cooper said to Rosé, “What can I do to help you get further with your career?” Rosé’s idea was to get together with Lagoona and myself and do a concert and see what happened. We had our first meeting and went into three part harmony just like that. The concert was a success.
And you all have a theater background?
All three of us went to school for musical theater. I started doing drag essentially right after I graduated. They worked as actors and had pretty good careers when they started doing drag. That was the goal, to try and get on Broadway. Until drag happened. I thought, “Let me put that on pause.”
Why did you all segue into drag?
It fell into my lap. It wasn’t on my radar or something I thought I’d be doing with my life. But between the fun I was having and the creative license I had to do whatever I wanted, that was new territory for me and I wanted to pursue that, and I was finding more success with drag than I ever had with theater. It was a no-brainer for me.
How far as an actor did you get?
Not too far. I did shows professionally when I was in college in Boston. Then there was one cruise contract, which wasn’t even theater. One of the big moments for me was I was up for the national tour of Kinky Boots and I got really far and had another callback to go to, and I said, “You know what? Even if I do get this, I don’t think I would take it. I’m enjoying drag so much and want to purse that.” In a way, drag is theater. I’m performing every night. It’s spontaneous, it works all the muscles I developed through my training, and it’s completely satisfying in the way theater was, but I’m expanding on it and in a new character.
But wouldn’t Kinky Boots have been a way to do both theater and drag?
Yeah, that was another thing in my mind, but one thing that draws me to my drag is how much creativity goes into it. Cyndi Lauper wrote an amazing score, but I wouldn’t get the same satisfaction doing the same thing over and over again. And I think that’s the great thing about NYC drag. You constantly have to reinvent and do new numbers and material, so they—and sometimes you—can stay interested.
Do you ever lip sync?
Yes. I love to sing and feel that’s what I’m most known for, but I love to lip sync and I make up mixes. When Mariah Carey asked for hot tea on national TV, I made a mix about it. When Fergie sings the “National Anthem,” I make a mix of it.
Do you feel sorry for drag queens that can’t sing live?
It makes me feel special that I’m able to do that for audiences and myself, but I don’t feel sorry for them because everybody has their own talents. I feel sorry for myself when someone like [drag performer] Izzy Uncut does something like a split. The grass is always greener.
How would you describe the differing personalities of you, Rosé, and Lagoona, and how they come together?
We are sisters. We love each other so much. We bicker and quarrel because we’re so comfortable with each other. Rosé is truly a comedian and can take any situation and make it so much better with her wit. Lagoona is like the middle child. She has a big heart and she is so emotionally invested in whatever she’s doing, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. She loves the group so much and she’s a lot of fun; she’s really silly. I’m like a fun in-between of them. I’m very schedule- and time-oriented and make sure that we’re staying on task, but that’s just in the rehearsal room. Onstage, we have our roles that we play. Lagoona says something stupid, Rosé will come in with a funny scenario to capitalize on what she said, then I’ll drive it home with a one-liner.
How would you describe your experience on The Voice?
We were brought on as talent for the season finale to accompany Nedra Belle, who was a contestant. They wanted him back doing drag for the finale and asked him if there was anyone doing drag and live singing who could accompany him and make it a big drag extravaganza. It was life-changing. I grew up with American Idol and would sing along with the Showstoppers album they’d come up with each season. I wanted people to hear my voice, and I got to do that that night.
O Borther, Who Art Thou?
I wonder if the Coen brothers operate like the sibs in Sam Shepard’s True West. Huddled over a rickety Smith Corona are an estranged duo coming together in their mom’s California house while mom’s vacationing in Alaska. Austin is a gifted screenwriter who’s attracted the attention of a producer, and his brother Lee is a drunken, amoral drifter who scruffily insinuates himself into a piece of the action. He’s full of corny ideas of the Old West, but various plot developments enable Lee to nab a Hollywood deal and usurp his brother’s creative power—or try to, anyway.
Being pretty illiterate, he desperately needs Austin to come up with the actual words of the screenplay, which furthers the pressure on their interfamilial dynamics. Without realizing that they’re comprising an Old West chase story themselves, the brothers are clearly the yin and yang of culture, commerce, and decency, until absurdist twists bring things to very dark levels and they seem cut from the same unraveling cloth.
I saw the excellent 1982 production with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, and in 2000, thrilled to Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly bravely alternating in the roles. With the new Broadway production directed by James Macdonald, I was disheartened with Act One, feeling that Ethan Hawke wasn’t fully embodying the randy mess that is Lee, and Paul Dano—another actor I admire—was stretching with the button-down role of Austin and coming off shockingly bland, way more so than required.
The sparks weren’t exactly flying, but when the second half veers into surreal theatrics, the direction kicks in and the two actors come alive as they go into some loopy lunacy involving golf clubs, toasters, a key set of keys, that typewriter, and each other. At this point, the production finds its tone and settles into some beautiful disarray. Marylouise Burke is perfect as mom, entering to utter chaos (Her beloved plants have been peed on rather than watered) and blithely deciding that she wants to go out and meet Picasso. No need. He’s already here in this portrait of the American Dream—and the American family—poetically gone awry.