All dressed up: Cabaret performer celebrates his musical heroes

Cabaret performance was one "glorious, glorious mistake", says performer Le Gateau Chocolat – a sliding door moment that came about after the law graduate realised practising law wasn't the way he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

Gateau was just another punter at the cabaret night Dynamite Boogaloo in Brighton in the UK when asked to stand in for a holidaying performer.

Le Gateau Chocolat brings together renditions from music legends Madonna, Meat Loaf and Bowie and Madonna for his new cabaret show. Credit:Steven Siewert

"Dolly Rocket handed me down one of her kaftans and an old afro wig and another performer who was on the rostra, Princess Twinkleknickers, gave me a tube of lipstick. I'll never forget it. I think it was from the '80s, her mum had given it to her, she didn't really use it and it was proper grease lipstick and I remember I used it for eye shadow, lipstick, and blusher. Getting ready then used to take three minutes."

The bearded bass-baritone ventured into circus, theatre and opera, and is bringing his cabaret solo show, ICONS, to Sydney Festival's Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent.

The intimate Hyde Park venue with its red velvet drapes and stained glass windows plays host to a range of festival performances of music and cabaret including art-pop composer Julia Holter, the world premiere of Pigalle and Cuba’s finest musicians from Orquesta Akokan.

Gateau's semi-autobiographical show mixes pop, opera, and theatre to highlight artists as diverse as Elvis, Kate Bush, Pavarotti and Meat Loaf that have shaped his experiences as a cabaret artist and his own personal identity, and in doing so make a connection with his audience.

"My work is to try and underline a commonality because I live in a society and environment where I'm never just allowed to be a human being," he says.

"In my world, I'm always black and gay or fat or Nigerian, I'm always labelled. So the work I do is to underline, 'Oh, you listened to Madonna in the '80s?' 'Oh my god, I listened to Madonna in my bedroom as well'. That makes us similar, the same. It's a really important message in the demagogic times we live in where our political leaders literally prey on the idea we are not the same."

Le Gateau Chocolat mixes pop, opera and rock. Credit:Steven Siewert

This performance marks a return to Australia for Gateau who debuted his first solo show in Australia at the Adelaide Fringe in 2011.

"When I was growing up I didn't really have a voice," he says. "I was like a foghorn in the house, I remember a lot of 'shut ups' which were well founded because it was such an annoying sound. It was between 15 and 19 that my voice began to change and then around 21 and 22 it was evident I could if I wanted to pursue a career in singing."

Gateau declined a place in the Guildhall of the Royal Academy of Music, one of the world's leading conservatories, to pursue law and doesn't know what would have happened if he had instead pursued his first love of opera.

"The opera world is very, very different. It is making humungous strides but it's still rather elitist and white. Now I'm not sure I [would have] wanted to enter a world of self-martyrdom where I would be pursuing something and I'm not getting it on the basis of colour."

That hasn't stopped Gateau. He joined the cast of Porgy and Bess at Regents Park Opera directed by Tim Sheader, Twelfth Night at The Globe and Effigies of Wickedness; Songs banned by the Nazis – for The Gate Theatre and English National Opera.

"To be able to straddle cabaret, theatre, opera is ideal because those worlds bleed into each other, there's a wonderful sense of symbiosis. So far, so ideal."

Le Gateau Chocolat: ICONS plays from January 23 to January 27.

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