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Joyful burlesque and cabaret combine for 'A Night at the Musicals'

Gay liberation in Melbourne has come a long way in the last 40 years – improved public perception once contributed to decriminalisation; now it leverages public backing for gay marriage and adoption.

Come January, a vista of diversity and embrace overcomes the city in welcoming the 30th Midsumma Festival. A glittering lineup of cabaret personalities, high-octane theatre, film, projection and dance events is set for an occasion celebrating the perseverance, acceptance and talent within the queer community.
 
A virtuosic burlesque tops the bill – A Night at the Musicals showcases exemplary British drag queens Jonny Woo and Le Gateau Chocolat engulfed in the cherished musical scores rooted in our nostalgic arsenal.
 
Supported by an inherent onstage rapport, the show spurred from casual beginnings. “We’ve been working on the show for about ten years,” Woo says. “me and Gateau just did it as fun at this cabaret venue called Bistrotheque where I used to do a lot of work and we used to just get on stage as much for ourselves as for the audience.
 
“People always loved it because people always love musicals and we get on really well and have a really good laugh on stage. Then I got my own venue called The Glory in London and I thought it’d be fun to revive it so we thought ‘let’s make it a thing, let’s hone it and make it a really tight show’ and that’s what we did.”
 
A performance retaining a setlist including Grease’s famed hit Summer Lovin’, Les Misérables’ At The End Of The Day andChess’I Know Him So Well necessitates a quirk to maintain originality – stylistic disparity upholds the duo’s charm.
 
“Gateau’s a bass-alto opera singer, he’s got this incredible voice and I’m much more of a physical performer with some refined dance training and I’ve got a very different vocal style to him as well. If I tried to compete vocally or match it, it wouldn’t work, but I’ve got more of a rockier style to him so they go together very nicely.
 
“We’re very comfortable with each other – I’m comfortable in what he does, he’s comfortable in what I do and we’re very sure of what we’re presenting. We enjoy teasing each other and playing off each other and enjoying those differences which is what the audience loves so much about it.”
 
Reverting to a proven recipe guarantees success but how proliferate is it? Diving into the unknown is risky but can be lucrative; notwithstanding, Woo understands his most profitable direction.
 
“We do have a lot of stuff in our repertoire but with this show – this is very set, because that’s the beauty of having a show that we know so well. It’s working together and we’re really comfortable in it so there isn’t the risk of things not going to plan.
 
“It’s a pretty highly scripted show but within that we do have space to go off because it’s cabaret so if I come up with an idea with Gateau that makes me chuckle, we love that, but then we go straight back to where we were.”
 
Sporting a revolving door of revealing one-pieces, frilly dresses and seductive hair and makeup, Woo and Gateau bring A Night at the Musicals to Melbourne for six shows as part of the 2017 Midsumma Festival.
 
Complementing the vivacious duo on a bill bearing 130 events are comedic wunderkinds The Sparrow Men, folk songstresses Kerryn Fields & Little Wise as well as photographer Lisa White with her noteworthy exhibition Beautiful Women.
 
Acclaimed contemporary ballet piece HardQueer DeathPony will be performed while the annual Pride March returns once again. Kicking off proceedings, flagship dance party events Midsumma Carnival and T Dance look to transform Alexandra Gardens.
 
Public opinion of homosexuality has improved but the agitators still remain; Woo isn’t intimidated and firms as a resolute leader of parity and acceptance. “It’s so easy for us to become divided as a community and these events are a way of us coming together and celebrating our differences and similarities and our triumph – saying ‘whatever the world throws at us – fuck off – we will rise to the top and be beautiful and look after each other.’”
 

A Night at the Musicals kicks off on Tuesday January 17 at Arts Centre Melbourne and runs until Sunday January 22. Tickets via Arts Centre Melbourne