I’d never been to a cabaret before, and I found myself sitting quietly in front row of the darkened Loft at Q Theatre on a Wednesday night, eagerly anticipating what was in store. I didn’t have long to wait before a soulful, sultry voice punctuated the silence. Lights still down, the voice rises and falls with ease, while impressive booming vocals fill the packed venue.
We were all here to see Leather Lungs: Yas Queen!, a cabaret tribute to iconic powerhouse performers, as part of the Part of the 2020 Auckland Pride Festival. And after stepping gracefully out of the shadows, Jason Chasland slides into the centre stage, all glitter and sass, hanging up the mic mid note, to thunderous applause.
Fabulously dressed, immaculately presented, and bathed in soft coloured lighting, Chasland is a magnetic presence. A purple glittered wig sits upon his head and juxtaposes his perfectly groomed beard. Moving down we can’t help but admire the combination of a men’s black singlet beneath a tiny black jewelled corset (how he can breathe, let along perform in it is beyond me), half a purple tutu, black jockey undies, torn fishnets and a killer pair of stiletto boots. The costume is a perfect portrayal of his performance switching between both masculine and over the top flamboyant femininity.
But we weren’t there for the costume, well, not completely. Musically Lungs: Yas Queen! delivers a simmering, mesmeric cabaret show that is packed full of strong power ballads that are cleverly interspersed with witty asides and affecting personal anecdotes. Yes, we all went to hear Chasland’s four-octave range crush Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, Celine Dion’s ‘It’s all coming back to me now”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which was sweetly dedicated to his mother, but it was Chasland the person, that stayed with me the most. He’s a beautiful contradiction, in one moment fierce and powerful, the next raw and vulnerable, while always uplifting. He was funny, charming and just the right amount of lewd when chatting with the audience between songs. Pure entertainment.
But let’s circle back to that voice for a minute. Wellington may have held a Queen concert last night but ask anyone at the Q Theatre and they’d all tell you that he best version of “Somebody to Love” was belted out of the loft that evening. It was breath-taking.
Better yet, at no point did it feel you were watching a one-man Karaoke show. Each song contained aspects of what made their original’s special; Freddie’s vocal range, Aretha’s power, Celine’s heart wrenching emotion, but each was very much interpreted to be his own. Think you know what to expect from a Celine Dion cabaret performance? Think again. Imagine “It’s all coming back to me now” but if Celine lived out in Te Atatu sharing ciggies with Cheryl West.
Ignoring the costumes and production for a minute and just focusing on Chasland’s pure, raw talent and mesmeric energy, I can quite comfortably say that he’s one the best live artists that I have ever seen. I was almost moved to tears during his rendition of Elvis’ “Can’t help falling in love with you”, and I’m sure if I had brought my conservative Catholic mother along, even she would have left the theatre a fan too.
You wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Leather Lungs: Yas Queen! ended with two encores and a standing ovation. It was that good. But don’t take my word for it – see it for yourself!
Leather Lungs: Yas Queen! plays as part of Auckland Pride at Q Theatre, February 4 to 8.
Ticket price: $26.00 – $32.00 (service fees may apply)
Performed by Jason Chasland
Produced by Ben Anderson
Presented by Leather Lungs