Gender-defying demi-drag divas Jonny Woo and Le Gateau Chocolat wage a dazzling assault on some of the best-loved staples of the musical theatre canon in A Night at the Musicals at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Studio as one of the flagship shows of this year’s Midsumma festival.
Abandon any dewy-eyed aspirations of revolving stages, rippling low fog, or fly-in sets – this is, as Gateau attests, “where musical theatre comes to die”. Equipped with little more than a star cloth, a handful of skin-tight leotards and some very scruffy wigs, these ratbag showgirls conjure vivid (if rough-hewn) visions of a melange of beloved big-budget classics, from Phantom to Frozen.
This deviance from the conventional trappings of main stage glamour swings the spotlight squarely onto the songs themselves, and both performers serve each number powerfully. Woo and Gateau are both masters of their craft, and their respective performance styles and voices complement each other beautifully. Jonny Woo’s facial gymnastics tip their bonnet to the iconic drag club grotesquery of the 1980s and Le Gateau Chocolat’s rich baritone voice is so powerfully resonant that it’s almost penetrative.
Beneath the sequins, A Night at the Musicals also serves as a far more poignant centrepiece for Melbourne’s premier queer arts and cultural festival.
The old stereotype of musical theatre being a typically gay pursuit is a vigorously worn-out cliché. However, within these songs – anthems of endurance and triumph, of the quest for identity and understanding, and of battles for love and acceptance – there is an undeniable allegoric resonance with so many queer narratives.
A Night at the Musicals is a high camp trash at its most glorious – a loving tribute to a genre that continues to provide endless inspiration, escapism and hope in an often bleak and glitterless world.