No showtune is sacred as two London drag superstars massacre musical theatre classics, with hilarious results
Do you love – and I mean really love – musical theatre? Does the thought of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ bring on goosebumps? Do you live for Sally Bowles in Cabaret? If your answer is ‘no’, then stop reading. This show is not for you. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this drag-cabaret spoof of musical theatre is only for those whose hearts beat hard for the genre, but don’t mind watching some of its greatest treasures treated with supreme irreverence.
Enter Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo: two of London’s most accomplished cabaret performers. The former is a Nigerian-British performer with a devastatingly rich and deep baritone voice who made his debut solo appearance at the Adelaide Fringe in 2011; the latter a cult alt-drag artiste renowned for leading London’s cabaret revival in the early 2000s.
Together, they’re putting on the most fucked-up version of Glee you can imagine. Gateau – resplendent in golden glitter and tulle – and a hooded and cloaked Woo step out onto the stage. Together, they launch into the title song from Phantom of the Opera. Instead of Christine’s soprano, we’re given Gateau’s room-filling baritone; and instead of the phantom’s white mask, Woo wears a Darth Vader mask and wields a lightsaber. Yep, you bet there are Star Wars sound effects.
“This is where musical theatre goes to die,” announces Gateau. But A Night at the Musicals is really more of a silly homage than a true massacre. Fans will find joy in over-the-top costume changes and ridiculous musical in-jokes; a particularly hilarious one is Gateau’s Fantine getting a terrible haircut while singing that song from Les Mis, and another is Woo’s lascivious lip sync routine to ‘Mein Herr’ from Cabaret. That said, it’s really Gateau’s show. With just a look or a flounce, the bearded, bejewelled baritone steals every moment from Woo; and that’s before he unleashes his show-stopping voice on anything from Les Mis to Frozen.
This unevenness isn’t necessarily a problem. A bigger issue is the uneasy relationship between the performers and the audience. This is straight-up cabaret, and here in the cavernous Fairfax Theatre, things don’t always translate. There is no cohesion between songs, which means it’s all about the banter between Gateau and Woo and little slices of audience interaction – all of which would land a lot better in a rowdy, liquored-up nightclub or cabaret. Energy plummets when the pair venture into the audience for an oddly earnest version of ‘Tale as Old as Time’ from Beauty and the Beast. Audience interaction is key here, but when we’ve been separated from the stage for so long, it’s hard to break through. The same thing happens in a forced Grease sing-a-long at the end; a charming idea that becomes awkward in execution.
But these qualms aside, it’s thrilling to be in the presence of such sparkling talent. A Night at the Musicals is ridiculously fun, at times beautiful and a tiny bit magical – just like a good musical is supposed to be.
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