Drag diva Velma Celli sings praises of show queens in York Theatre Royal cabaret night

Velma Celli: Returning to York Theatre Royal to celebrate West End and Broadway musical queens. Picture: Sophie Eleanor

YORK drag diva deluxe Velma Celli will be in regal voice at York Theatre Royal in her new cabaret concoction of music, risqué comedy and generally fabulous entertainment on May 23.

After God The Save The Queens’ celebration of British music icons, from Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and Kate Bush to Adele, Amy Winehouse and Dua Lipa, here comes Velma Celli’s Show Queen.

“It was going to be called just ‘Show Queen’, but then I discovered there’s a famous drag act in Australia who’s done a show with that title, so ‘Velma Celli’s Show Queen’ it is,” says Velma, the flamboyant creation of West End musical actor and cruise ship star turn Ian Stroughair, 41.

“I’ll be touring it next year when it’ll be called ‘Show Queen’ but with a tag line. It’s a title that’s open to any interpretation.”

Offering an invitation to the new show, Velma says: “Grease up your voice boxes, head to the glorious Theatre Royal, York and come Hear the People Sing the Sound Of Music worthy of royalty or Hamilton himself in this greatest of Cabaret shows.”

Velma Celli: Presenting “the greatest of cabaret shows”

What’s in store? “It’s a brand new show going back to my own musical theatre roots, having appeared in iconic mega shows such as Cats, Chicago, Fame and Rent. I’ll be celebrating the very best of London’s West End and Broadway musical theatre hits in a show that takes us to every corner of the fabulous genre, from Kander & Ebb and Lloyd Webber to Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked and Schönberg’s Les Miserables and many more,” says Velma. “Like, more than Six!

“I first did it at Crazy Coqs [the London cabaret club], but only with piano, so not the full version that it will be in York, where the band will be led by Scott Phillips on keyboards. He’s a professional musical director, who I first met when he was training here in York, and now I take him everywhere to do all my gigs. He’s fixing up the rest of the band but Al Morrison will definitely be on guitar.”

Among the highlights of Velma’s 75-minute show will be a ten-minute Kander & Ebb medley of Cabaret and Chicago, including Cell Block Tango. “I’ll be doing all six of the murderesses at Cook County Jail regaling Roxie Hart with the stories behind the murder of the men in their lives,” says Velma. “I’m doing it in a mash-up with Henry VIII’s wives in Six!”

Velma’s special guests will be burlesque superstar Miss Betsy Rose and an acoustic set with soul-powered York singer Jessica Steel, a regular in Velma’s home-city shows accompanied by guitarist Stuart Allan.

“Betsy has been voted the number one burlesque artist three times and is known for being the best in vintage burlesque,” says Velma. “She’s done shows with me at Impossible York, and I look forward to her giving off Cyd Charisse vibes at the Theatre Royal. And Jess? She’s York’s finest!”

Miss Betsy Rose: Guest burlesque act at Velma Celli’s Show Queen cabaret night at York Theatre Royal

Velma Celli’s Show Queen will be Velma’s fourth gig at York Theatre Royal in recent years, after A Brief History Of Drag in May 2021, Me And My Divas in September 2022 and God Save The Queens last September.

“I did my first musical there, in 1997, when I was 14: Kes! The Musical,” Velma recalls. “Lawrence Till directed it, and we were just school kids working with West End professionals. What an experience.”

After 15 years of shows taking her to Australia, New York, the Edinburgh Fringe and London’s Hippodrome, Velma Celli’s diary is as busy and as diverse as ever.

“Last month I was the MC for a concert for the Demelza House children’s charity at the Granville Theatre in Ramsgate, introducing Anna-Jane Casey, Robin Cousins, Amy Lennox, Mike Nolan & Cheryl Baker and Christina Bianco, who I’ll be performing with at Crazy Coqs in a tenth anniversary of our show Divallusion on August 30,” says Velma.

Velma’s travels have taken her back to Australia this year on tour. “I played Sydney, the Brunswick Picturehouse, Byron Bay, in New South Wales, and Perth, where God Save The Queens won the Perth Fringeworld award for best cabaret, after I was  nominated previously for A Brief History Of Drag and won with Me And My Divas,” she says.

The poster artwork for Velma Celli’s God Save The Queens

“I did a cruise too, from Melbourne to Sydney, doing my show on board for four days – and I’ve sung at a private show in the Seychelles. Lovely!”

Coming up in York will be Velma Celli’s Pride Drag Brunch for York Pride on June 1 at Impossible York at 4pm and the Pride Official Afterparty at Ziggy’s Bar & Nightclub, in Micklegate, from 8pm.  

Further afield in Yorkshire, Velma will be performing God Save The Queens at Skipton Town Hall on June 15 (8pm, box office: skiptontownhall.co.uk). In the diary too is a return to a starring role at Yorktoberfest, York’s celebration of beer, bratwurst and all things Bavarian in the Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, on October 18, 19, 25 and 26 (tickets: ticketsource.co.uk/yorktoberfest).

Velma Celli’s Show Queen, York Theatre Royal, May 23, 7.30pm. Age guidance: 14 plus. Content warning: Strong language.

Should you be in the south: Velma Celli’s A Brief History Of Drag, King’s Head Theatre, 116 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN, June 17, 9pm; Velma Celli’s God Save The Queens, Fiery Bird, Goldsworth Road, Woking, July 13, 7.30pm. Box office: kingsheadtheatre.com; fierybirdvenue.org.uk.

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