Making our way from the cosy, cave-like bar at the Union Theatre and into the auditorium, we step through the threshold and find ourselves the welcome guests of an exclusive soirée hosted by the illustrious Vivienne de Vil, self-proclaimed confidante to the musical theatre elite. A chaise longue, bare brick walls, a white piano and crystal decanters at the ready, this is a night of the utmost sophistication. The band starts playing, the audience chattering amongst themselves, and our hostess makes her grand entrance. Vivienne de Vil, as glamorous and vampish a drag queen as her name implies, welcomes us to her party and takes us on a whistle-stop history tour of the lives of the most iconic women of stage.
Dishing the dirt on her friendships with the most celebrated divas of Broadway and the West End, Vivienne de Vil pays homage to each of their careers by treating us to some fabulous musical numbers. In between sipping from her cocktail glass and making jokes at the expense of her band, she gives us the inside scoop on the likes of Barbra Streisand, Patti Lupone and Julie Andrews, to name but a few. She details the feuds, troubles and insecurities she has helped each of her friends overcome, and of course the plethora of leading roles that she herself has had to turn down due to being just ‘too busy’, all while striding about the space and basking in the audience’s unwavering attention.
With One Look is a wildly enjoyable show, balancing a brief exploration into the histories of each of the divas with beautiful and expertly performed songs. Gregory Hazel’s Vivienne de Vil is utterly delicious, delivering saucy commentary and wonderful throwaway remarks that have the audience roaring while she casts us knowing looks. Vivienne marks a very welcome evolution in the world of drag. Her humour is inclusive and good natured – rather than aggressive – and includes as many jokes about herself as the divas she celebrates. There is a particular charm in the way she acknowledges technical mishaps by rolling her eyes and shaking her head in matriarchal disbelief.
The cherry on the top of this production is that Hazel really can sing. Note perfect and with fantastic vocal range, each of the songs is performed with endearing sincerity, completely doing away with the parodical approach that we have come to expect from drag artists and instead opting for simplicity, stillness and an emotional depth which is truly impressive. Henry Brennan and Michael Bazzoni, as pianist and drummer respectively, are fabulous, providing an understated yet rich soundtrack to the performance and indulging in Vivienne’s banter.
Hazel has done a fantastic job of complementing the recognisable and well-loved songs from the most cherished of shows with some lesser known numbers. Particularly enjoyable are the chilling rendition of ‘I’d Give My Life for You’ from Miss Saigon and a fabulous medley featuring our favourite Disney villainesses. As Vivienne, Hazel shows his true admiration for the women he discusses and dapples the show with moments of poignancy which encourage us to consider the more socio-political aspects of each woman’s career before dropping a quick one-liner to keep the mood bright and celebratory.
With One Look beautifully capitalises on the increasingly popular artistry of drag while connecting its audience to the women who have inspired so many with both their lives and their careers. Gregory Hazel, along with alter ego Vivienne de Vil, is a real joy to behold – certainly one to watch!
Reviewed by Alex Foott