[Queen of Q]
“Do you guys like my outfit?” Jason Chasland inquires at the top of the show, swivelling so the stage lights illuminate the bejewelled patterns adorning his shoulders. There’s also a bright pink wig, an embroidered black corset, fishnet stockings, half a purple $2 Shop tutu, and a pair of staggering stiletto leather boots, accented with small red and white pom-poms. He smiles wryly, raising an eyebrow from under the pink and blue lights. “It’s as colourful as my life choices.”
Around him is a mic stand, a bar leaner and an ornamental armchair, but even if Chasland had more of a set to compete with, or was wearing a less striking ensemble, I doubt I’d be able to tear my eyes away. From the moment he appears on-stage, stepping into a lone, blue spotlight, he is magnetic.
Part of the 2020 Auckland Pride Festival, Leather Lungs: Yas Queen! is a cabaret tribute to the iconic songs of some of history’s most beloved powerhouse artists. “These songs,” he advises, at once addressing us as a group and also (somehow) individually, “are the soundtrack of my life.”
And we listen, eagerly devouring every note that Chasland powerfully and flawlessly lands. His range is unbelievable, and he knows it: the show’s soundtrack features hits from legendary vocalists like Aretha Franklin, Cher, Prince and Freddie Mercury. It’s a formidable line-up, not for the faint of heart or the most ambitious of karaoke nights, but as soon as Chasland’s rich vocals fill the darkness at Q Loft, you know you’re in safe hands. Seamlessly pivoting from belters like “Respect” to an innuendo-laden rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and a balladic “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, Chasland’s consistently impeccable delivery become almost visceral: you can feel his ambition, skill and passion in every line.
While Chasland’s voice is undoubtedly the highlight of the show, there’s no forgetting that Chasland himself is the star. Between (and often within) his numbers, he riffs with the audience, revealing a wicked sense of humour that is sharp and provocative. You get the sense he’s adapting his set in real-time, deviating from the script to improvise what will come next depending on how the audience reacts. Each interlude feels more like a conversation than part of a stand-up set, which is perhaps why Chasland is able to so easily transition from humour to recounting the personal narrative that (loosely) underpins the show. He’s a vivid storyteller, and I’m surprised by how quickly I feel I know him. The tone he establishes is welcoming and intimate, and it’s an important balance to strike; a necessary foundation of trust for the moments of vulnerability that appear later in the show.
As Chasland tells us in the second act, Leather Lungs: Yas Queen! is a show “about self-belief”. It tells a story that is intensely personal but ultimately hopeful, embracing the theatrics of Chasland’s powerhouse performance and comedic address to invite catharsis, as much for the audience as for Chasland himself.
Leather Lungs: Yas Queen! plays as part of Auckland Pride at Q Theatre, February 4 to 8.
Performed by Jason Chasland
Produced by Ben Anderson
Presented by Leather Lungs