Director: Ian Stroughair
When Velma Celli (Ian Stroughair) took to the stage with her four piece band, huge blonde wig quivering, it was clear she intended to belt the hell out of some songs with her usual brand of cabaret meets musical theatre style. And the audience were absolutely here for it.
While the first song, Dog Days Are Over, wasn’t the greatest choice, with a little too much echo on the mic and an overly frenetic feel to it, the absolute bonus was that we got to see an early glimpse of the witticisms that peppered the show throughout. Velma Celli’s stick on nails pinged off in all directions as she clapped to the song, leading to her pulling them all off and giving them out to the audience as presents.
Velma is beautiful, statuesque, fascinating to look at, and for many drag queens this is enough. But of course Stroughair has the ace in his pocket, his voice is gorgeous, on occasion outstanding, and he is not afraid to use it.
Songs like Jessie J’s Nobody’s Perfect and Creep by Radiohead (yes, really) were embedded with an extra layer of depth and meaning by Stroughair, who made beautiful ballads of them both.
There is on occasion a feeling of rushing with Velma Celli, I often wish she would take more time within her songs, it sometimes feels like the tempo is a little quick and doesn’t allow her to truly shine – but it’s the price Stroughair pays for filling the programme with a mammoth amount of songs along with audience participation and the trademark off the cuff remarks and chats.
By the end of the first half we had been treated to a Julie Andrews megamix along withan interactive version of Total Eclipse of the Heart which was both hilarious and brilliant. The second half continued in a similar vein with Velma Celli’s character coming alive as she relaxed into her home town show.
A guest appearance from regular singing partner Jessica Steel was well received, partly due to excellent song choice (Nothing Compares 2 U and Running Up That Hill) but more due to the impressive harmonies between the two.
By the end we had heard songs from all genres and seen three different costumes, with the third being an iconic Velma pairing of short ra-ra dress, with a sparkly punk jacket that two thirds of the audience wanted for their own. A series of encores ended with a pastiche of songs from Queen, without the band, just Velma and her voice. Entirely apt, and Stroughair’s voice soared, leaving the audience in no doubt that Velma Celli is the brilliant alter ego of a very talented man.
Reviewed on 15th September 2023.