It’s been several years coming but Manchester finally got a taste of Le Gateau Chocolat’s sweet sweet award-winning talent at Contact last night. Forget lip-syncing for your life, the big, bearded and beautiful Le Gateau Chocolat is first and foremost a vocalist of genuine power, and while she might like to cheekily introduce herself as a ‘complete asshole’, her stage persona is life-giving and full of heart – but let’s talk about that voice… Baritone, velvet, dextrous, LOUD – you have never heard the Great American Songbook performed like this. Breakneck trips through the best of the musicals are punctuated with heart-breaking interludes where wigs and music are stripped back for moments of real tenderness. At one point a delicate ‘Hoppipolla’-style piano scale underpins the most touching Whitney Houston interpretation you might ever hear.
The best drag performers have comedy and tragedy at the tips of their gloves, and the music of Ms Chocolat moves deftly between the two. The potted version of Les Miserables will make you want to fast forward through every musical film ever with Gateau on the couch bedside you – hilarious. It’s offset emotionally with moments such as an astonishing tribute to Paul Robeson, where Gateau brings her basso profundo to the painful, beautiful, dignified slave narrative of Robeson’s ‘Old Man River’. It’s a very moving and special moment to see a large, powerful and adored black queer body and voice in all their power. Queer culture should always be about celebrating that which the mainstream designates as ‘odd’ and ‘other’. Le Gateau Chocolat celebrates herself, and the audience follows lovingly. ‘I have a law degree you know,’ she says, as she switches from one dazzling lycra creation to the next. Defying expectations is where great art begins, of course.