In a post-Cats (movie) world, I feel we’re coming to the collective consensus that musicals might not be as deserving of shiny, pedestalled reverence we’ve given the genre historically. (Arguably, should we have started to tone down the praise when Cats first prowled to stage? I DIGRESS) It’s no better time, then, for a send of up all things West End by drag performers Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo. A Night at the Musicals is a loving middle finger to the musical genre, scrapbooked together in a fabulous if scrappy show.
Chocolat and Woo have brilliant chemistry, as immediately evidenced in their first interaction on stage. It’s plain good fun watching them toy with their prima donna meets high-street cynic dynamic with oodles (yes, ‘oodles’, it’s Christmas) of commitment. Chocolat shrugs off a costume change with a knowing “what, this old thing?” wink to the audience and has us eating putty out of their hands. That’s not to undermine Woo’s looks, either: her final outfit invokes a glorious alternate universe in which Jessica Rabbit’s come out of a generous divorce settlement with a killer haircut and a need to party. Together, that glam is out of the window: a recent purchase means the start of the show is absolutely derailed so Chocolat can berate Woo’s choice of “cycling short” tights.
The two carry that ribbing through to their treatment of musical theatre itself, aiming to recreate every musical ever made. Even with all the madcap summaries that will presumably entail within seventy minutes, the audience know we’re in good hands with two genuinely gifted performers. Chocolat’s reputation (and actual Olivier award) precede them, and Woo matches them well across several beautifully harmonised pieces.
The lampooning is clear, too, if not very specific in some cases: Chocolat pauses during a stint as Fantine to ask why exactly her child is living in the wood, and that attention to detail shows we’re dealing with insiders here. Musicals are being torn apart from the perspective of two people who love what they’re doing, and this affection behind the lampooning marks them aside from any perception of bullying.
That comfortable place that Chocolat and Woo are in does lead to some overlong riffing between songs, however. The pacing suffers at the hands of this duo merely because they’re having a laugh which is undeniably enjoyable to watch but does lead the show more into indulgent territory than a more polished cabaret performance (not to be confused with the Cabaret performance, which had Woo flexing acrobatic muscles I wouldn’t be able to locate on my own body). That said, it’s the same level of showboating you’d get at a panto- and for an alternative to Berwick Kaler’s iron grip on the Yorkshire dame scene, this is really worth a gander.
A Night at the Musicals runs at Leeds Playhouse until 21 December. More info here.