When I arrived at the Matcham Room inside The Hippodrome Casino London in Leicester Square I was taken to my table and performing on stage were The Marjorie Belles, a three piece forties vocal harmony girl group. This was a fantastic start to the evening and made the waiting time for the main event fly by and added to the beautiful surroundings of the venue.
I must admit that my knowledge and experience of cabaret and drag performance is rather minimal so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The Velma Celli Show is in fact the perfect eclectic blend of musical theatre, cabaret, burlesque and circus performance sprinkled with comedy, audience participation and tongue in cheek innuendo.
From the very first number, Cry Me A River, I knew this was going to be an evening of pure talent based entertainment, which was confirmed when Celli sang, Velma, a very clever re-working of Roxie from the musical Chicago. I found myself motionless as I listened to this incredible voice full of power, emotion, control and soul. Adding some variety to the show Celli performed a sensational cover of Marry the Night by Lady GaGa, proving that she not only has the skill and voice for musical theatre but for contemporary pop music as well. Celli quickly established a fabulous rapport with the audience by being very personable, funny and most of all by having what seemed to be a fantastic time on stage.
After a few more musical treats from the lady herself we were introduced to some guest stars, Jordan Lee Davies sang his own, heartfelt and emotive version of Just Like a Pill by Pink. Then came the time for some visual talent in the form of Jonathan Finch an incredibly talented contortionist and Ben Brown a circus hoop performer, both amazing artists that have to be seen to be believed. Before this moment I had no idea the human body was capable of such flexibility and strength. Providing a beautiful soundtrack to this dazzling display of physical poetry was Celli with a soft rendition of My Funny Valentine. Act one of this sensational show was bought to a sexy and sassy close by the beautiful Jolie Papillon with an incredibly raunchy burlesque routine.
Act Two brought with it the introduction of Mr Fox, Velma Celli’s husband, who together performed An Ode to Kerry Katona, I won’t go into details but all I will say is that I hadn’t laughed that much in a long time. There were more interludes from the amazing guest stars Jordan Lee Davies, Jolie Papillon, Ben Brown and Jonathan Finch bringing more unique talent to the stage. Celli and Davies performed a fantastic version of Love You I Do from the musical Dreamgirls, there was an enormous sense of play and enjoyment in this duet as well of course the amazing vocals.
Without a doubt the main highlight of the entire evening for me (though I must admit there were many highlights) was Velma Celli’s rendition of No Day but Today from the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson. I have already stated how vocally talented Celli is but this particular song was quite the exception. Over the years I have heard many versions of this song as well as other songs from Rent but when Celli began singing, it was like I had heard it for the first time. Celli sang each and every single word with such passion, belief and tenderness that the room fell silent and embraced the story within the song. At the moment our society seems to have become obsessed with the culture of ‘celebrity’ and something as vital and necessary as talent seems to get overlooked far too much, this evening however, talent was most definitely the main ingredient.
Velma Celli is the fabulous creation of West End musical theatre performer, singer, dancer, choreographer and director, Ian Stroughair. Stroughair has been in some of the most successful musicals in the UK including, Cats, Chicago and Fame and has been and will be playing Angel in the 20th anniversary concert tour of Rent. There are further performance dates for The Velma Celli Show coming up on the 22nd August and 20th September, further details and how to book tickets can be found at www.velmacelli.com. With such a wealth of experience and an impressive skill set it is no wonder that Stroughair has made Velma Celli a true star and The Velma Celli show one not to be missed. I urge you to book your tickets immediately so you too can enjoy an evening of talent and entertainment.
Review by Haydn James
Monday 29th July 2013