Drag artist's tribute to the queens of musical theatre
Delve into the lives of musical theatre's most iconic women as their confidante, Vivienne Deville, shares some of their untold stories and biggest secrets.
The one-(wo)man stage show With One Look will receive its premiere at Harlow Playhouse during a two-night run on September 14 and 15 – and its creative team have big plans to take it on tour next year.
Vivienne, the old Hollywood glamour puss, is played by 27-year-old Gregory Hazel. During the show, the actor and singer will pay tribute to a whole host of celebrated actresses, including Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Elaine Page, Julie Andrews, Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters.
While performing in drag, Gregory will sing the songs his heroines made famous and recount the true stories that even the most diehard theatre lovers may not know.
“People will learn things. It’s not a history lesson, but people will come away thinking ‘I really didn’t know that’,” Gregory explained.
Gregory, who grew up in Billericay, co-wrote With One Look with director Daniel Bell, of KD Theatre Productions.
It was Daniel who first encouraged Gregory to perform in drag in a panto around four years ago. “He unleashed his monster and I found this was my niche, this was my place,” Gregory said.
Emmy-winning reality TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race – where drag queens compete in a format similar to America’s Next Top Model – has catapulted drag performance into mainstream popular culture, and while this has been good news for the LGBTQ+ community, the show’s success has created a couple of obstacles for Gregory to overcome.
“Drag is so popular at the moment, it’s almost become gimmicky. There’s this perception that drag is bitchy,” he explained.
Gregory wants to prove to his audiences that there is so much more to drag than bitching – and he wanted to create an authentic female character who the greatest stars of all time would have wanted to be friends with; someone classy, glamorous and poised.
“I decided she’s in her 50s, she’s very dressed up – Hollywood glamour, red carpet opening night,” Gregory said.
During the show, Vivienne will invite the audience into her front room – Theatre 2 at Harlow Playhouse – while she shares a few stories about her celebrity friends over a glass of bubbly.
To prepare, Gregory has spent countless hours researching the stories about his idols to share with his audiences at Harlow.
“Honestly, it’s been hours of trawling through the internet and reading interviews, but instead of saying it to The Guardian, they said it to Vivienne.”
The result, he says, is a celebration of these gifted performers, who all achieved critical acclaim in a tough industry.
“Women have always had to overcome more obstacles than men,” Gregory said. “In spite of that, these women still continue to break records.
“Nowadays, people are so aware of that – there are people demanding equal rights and equal pay. People are challenging it.”
With One Look marks Gregory’s first time working as part of a team on a show where he appears on the stage by himself.
“I’ve written, produced and funded my own shows before and they’ve been well received by critics and audiences, but this is so nice to be working as a team. When you work on your own, there’s no one to bounce ideas off.”
A month or so ago, Gregory and Daniel sat down to write the show. At that stage, Gregory had written about a third of the script and the team of two wrote the remainder that day. “When you’re working with someone, it’s so much quicker,” Gregory said.
Costume designer Kingsley Hall, wig mistress Vincenza Amiele, musical arrangement creator James Golborn and make-up artist Pjotr constitute the rest of the creative team who have brought Vivienne to life.
With One Look is on at the Harlow Playhouse on Friday and Saturday, Sept 14 and 15, at 8pm both nights. Tickets cost £12 online at www.harlowplayhouse.co.uk or by calling the box office on 01279 431945.