Sweet melodies - Le Gateau Chocolat on his favourite songs
The outsixed cabaret sensation shares his selection box of musical treats with us ahead of his first London solo run
He stormed Glastonbury! He teamed up with Jonny Woo to praise musical theatre! He cruised down the Thames for the Jubilee in Lycra and spiky shoulder pads! He reclaimed 'asshole' as a term of endearment! Le Gateau Chocolat is a bona fide star in London's cabaret firmament. Odd, then, to realise he hasn't had a solo run here - until now.
Gateau's self-titled show, unveiled at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, opens this week at (where else?) the Menier Chocolate Factory. Featuring songs delivered in the Nigerian-born performer's famously rich bass voice as well as stories from his eclectic life, it sets up a distinction between what happens on-stage and behind closed doors.
'I feel like I finally get to introduce myself to my home crowd,' Gateau says. 'I've played London before, with La Soirée and Shinky Shonky, at Bistrotheque and the Black Cap, but those shows have mostly been about a hyper-exaggerated version of who I am. This is an introduction to the man behind the Lycra, the lashes, the maquillage - the asshole!'
The set list is intensely personal - these are 'songs that resonate deeply, emotional anchors that relate to particular moments in my life' - so we asked Gateau to explain what a few of them mean to him…
'Don't Rain on My Parade'
'Gay, gay, gay! We're here, we're queer, get used to it! I remember the first time I saw “Funny Girl”, which this song comes from. It was in Nigeria and ratherlike the classic story of the American boy or girl dreaming of Broadway having seen an MGM musical, I longed to be part of everything I was watching. I watched excitedly but also secretly and naughtily. My father being a devout Catholic meant catechism for me and my mum being Pentecostal (“born again” Christian) meant grappling with my sexuality. I was lucky enough to leave Nigeria and the deep indoctrination there and make some sense of religion (how about “love thy neighbour as thyself”?) but this song harks back to when I first saw the film, and the lyrics evoke - oh so wonderfully - embracing life and living it to its fullest whoever you are. Before drag, sexuality, colour, size, I am just a person first.'
'I first heard this Radiohead song in 2008 at the Adelaide Festival, sung by a cabaret artist, opera singer and now dear friend, Ali McGregor. The lyrics perfectly captured my status quo at that point: floating untethered, post-law degree, having just played a genie in a panto after a stint in customer services then getting a call from Empress Stah to host her show in the Adelaide Festival. What the hell am I doing here? Or with my life? Can anyone see the real me? Can they be bothered to fight through all the layers? If I sometimes find it difficult to look at myself, being overweight (more so then), how difficult do they find it? An unending barrage of questions left me in a dark place and “Creep” captured that. I felt naked, vulnerable, tearful but found comfort in the fact that not only did the words capture my state of mind but they were evidence of at least one other person feeing the same.'
'A party piece; the piece that got me noticed on the cabaret scene; the piece I sang on my twenty-first birthday at Glastonbury to the most ridiculous and incredibly memorable reception; a piece from Puccini's incredible “Turandot”, written for a tenor and synonymous with football and here I am in drag, singing it as a bass and enjoying every morsel of subversion.'
'When I Have Sung My Songs to You'
'Ernest Charles's song is incredibly beautiful and of the classical repertoire. I first heard my favourite singer, Renee Fleming, sing it and it broke my heart. The lyrics echo my sentiments about my time on stage: I love it but I also feel it's a privilege and one that comes with great responsibility. People have not only paid money to see you but in my show I ask them to open their hearts and go on a journey with me, to challenge their preconceptions on some issues, to be not just alive but awake, present and thinking. So what is it I'm actually trying to say, what is my point, what is my voice? Can it be just entertainment? Yes, you can come and listen to some nice songs and see some pretty lights and sparkly costumes, but it can be a lot more…'