Review: With One Look, Underbelly Festival Southbank

With One Look is a 60 minute soiree with Vivienne de Vil and her two man band Henry Brennan and Nick Anderson. The piano plays, Ms De Vil sings and the audience warmly welcome the musical nostalgia of hits from some of the most beloved musical classics. It is a champagne salute to “this business we call show”, so naturally, like the career of most performers, there are highs and lows. 

This evening’s script has been written by Daniel Bell and Gregory Hazel, with the latter also performing as Vivienne de Vil. Our Broadway star Vivienne joins us tonight to announce her return to the stage, as she shares memories of past performances and gives glimpses of her impressive phonebook. The play is full of Broadway themed laughs which charm the more devoted musical theatre fans and jokes about a career which has seen our host brush shoulders with the biggest names in showbiz.

The script appears to be intelligently tailored to this show’s target audience, but it is in the moments when Hazel is forced to abandon their script and improvise that their wit and humour shine. I wish that such moments made up the bulk of the dialogue as currently, Hazel hangs to the script which causes the show to move at a slower pace, allowing the piece to grow, but not fast enough. 

As well as being our pianist for the night, Brennan also takes charge of the musical direction and arrangement alongside James Golborn. The set list honours many of Broadway’s heroines: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews to name a few. Due to the nature of the script, each song is introduced by some tale which explains the song’s relevance, but I think such explanations are overcompensating: the audience know they’re here to hear some show tunes, so there is no need to make excuses for each new song. I believe the excess of emotional solos wears down the enjoyment of being serenaded by spotlight and it is again the moments of communal participation that see the energy in the room soar.

‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ gives a real lift to the overall atmosphere and I think a few more songs of that pace and energy would give the evening better variety and flow. Is Hazel the best singer I’ve heard? No. Does it really matter? Not when the audience are singing along and experiencing the full joy of such an evening. 

It is worth noting that by the end of the piece many members of the audience are enthusiastically applauding and cheering; it is also worth noting that these are the people who laughed loudest at the musical theatre inside jokes which often went over my head. Perhaps this is an indication that this show is best fit for those who know the specific number of Tony awards Patti LuPone has been nominated for, or the musical director of every show currently in the West End. If not, the evening remains enjoyable, but difficult to truly connect with.

With One Look played the Underbelly Festival at the Southbank Centre until 28 August. For more information, see the Underbelly Festival website.