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Interview with Le Gateau Chocolat

26 June 2013 | Charlie Kenber

We talk to cabaret performer Le Gateau Chocolat about performing in drag, the world of burlesque and the lack of colour-blind casting in musical theatre

Le Gateau Chocolat is certainly a unique act. Billed as “an opera-singing diva with a penchant for being wrapped in body hugging lycra and a passion for laughter,” he draws big audiences all around the world. Nominated for Best Drag Act at the London Cabaret Awards earlier this year, he continues his rise through cabaret circles and has also performed at corporate gigs and celebrity weddings – including those of David Schwimmer, Katie Price and Stephen Daldry. We catch up with him ahead of his latest show, I ♥ Chocolat, which opens at London Wonderground on 3rd July.

London Calling: So what can we look forward to from your new show?

Le Gateau Chocolat: This show is like a chocolate jukebox of songs I’m in love with. It’s quite like a concert really. The first piece [that I did] was an introduction: where I’m from, my family, painting a picture and background of how I arrived here. This show is more about celebrating the music that I Iove: from pop to opera to musical theatre and jazz. A kaleidoscope of genres!

LC: Clearly you perform a wide range of music then – what do you look for in the songs you choose?

LGC: Music I can connect with. Music I’ve fallen in love with, that’s been on my iPod playlist as well. What I try to do is draw a correlation between some of the songs and particular moments in our lives. Then I link that to chocolate as well. I wanted the piece to be like a chocolate box, representing a variety of styles and emotion.

In terms of my evolution I’m trying to carve out a niche for myself, and wanted this piece to do that a little bit more. So I’m in drag yes, but I wanted to do a little more opera in this piece. People think opera should only be in an opera house, sung by someone who’s gone to the Royal Academy, or Guildhall, but music is for everyone. I am in drag but only as a vehicle for all this good music.

LC: You can’t seem to get enough of performing on the Southbank. What’s the London audience like?

LGC: The London audiences are very informed culturally, especially at the Southbank, where there’s such a variety of music and performance and art on. The seeds are already planted, they kind of know what they want: the palette’s a little more evolved.

The other interesting thing about this piece is to transcend queer identity or gay identity and establish a musical identity as well. Yes I am gay, yes I’m in drag but you can bring your Nan or you can bring your eleven year old – there’s bound to be something by Rihanna in there! At the show I did at the Menier Chocolate Factory a woman brought her children including a four year old. That’s the really interesting part about cabaret; the opportunity to educate, inform and challenge. In London you get the opportunity to do that because people are willing to listen.

LC: How did you first get into cabaret?

LGC: It came as a matter of evolution. I studied law then realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I started auditioning for musical theatre and operas, but I found that in the theatrical world or the operatic world it’s incredibly streamlined in colour. Unless it states on the page that the character is specifically black they are almost always seen as a white character. You keep on getting called for the same things. I did a piece at Glyndebourne which was wonderful and where I was just cast as a singer. But they are few and far between.

Music was always going to happen I just had to find the right vehicle!

LC: Where did the name Le Gateau Chocolat come from?

LGC: It is many things: the chocolate cake, but also ‘le gateau’ is a musical or operatic term which means smooth singing. Chocolat obviously again because of my colour.

LC: Do you think that cabaret and burlesque are becoming more mainstream?

LGC: I think it’s an incredibly important art form; it can be incredibly insightful. It questions and provokes, either by being hilarious, sad or purely escapist. On The X Factor, or The Voice someone who is not considered their taste is labelled as cabaret or musical theatre. It’s bullshit – some of the musical theatre performers I know are some of the best singers I know.

If you have something to say the cabaret platform allows you to shape a piece in any way from singing to speaking to dance. Rightly so it is getting more popular. You get a lot of bang for your buck. The age of cabaret being a derogatory term is dying.

LC: What do you want your audience to take away from your shows?

LGC: I remember from my first time in Edinburgh, I think there are a lot of assumptions of what people expect a drag performance to deliver. What I’d like to do is to shatter, to challenge some of that. Because before the music and before the drag I think the uniform thing that connects all of us is humanity. We’re all human first. In my own words I try to communicate that.

If all else fails and the drag is too much for you, I think come and enjoy some good music. It’s the music you’d hear in a festival or go and dance to. It can be win-win just let yourself the opportunity to come with one thing open. If the look is too much at least come with your eyes closed and listen to good music. Hopefully you will see a lot to be celebrated. That’s the hope of any artist: to make that connection with people, with strangers you don’t know. I hope that’s what the show does.

Le Gateau Chocolat performs at London Wonderground on 3rd, 7th and 30th July 2013. Tickets start at £14 and are available here.

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