Exit Velma Celli for one night only as Ian Stroughair fronts up for revealing show without make-up at Grand Opera House

York musical theatre actor, dancer and vocal drag artiste Ian Stroughair sans make-up

IAN Stroughair, creator of flamboyant York vocal drag artiste Velma Celli, will reveal The Man Behind The Make-Up at the Grand Opera House, York, on September 9.

For one night only, international award-winning cabaret and musical theatre star Ian will shed his Velma alter-ego to present his brand of fabulous, revealing entertainment “complete with a live big band and a lot of laughs”.

Returning to his roots, he will serve up a one-off concert as himself, celebrating the music that inspired him to sing. From George Michael to Freddie Mercury, Elton John to David Bowie, York’s West End performer promises an evening of musical theatre and anecdotes from his varied career in show business, from cruise ships to pantomime, Cats, Fame, Rent and Chicago on the London stage to Funny Girls in Blackpool. Oh, and a cameo on EastEnders.

Ian Stroughair in Velma Celli mode at the Impossible Wonderbar

In the guise of Velma Celli, Ian has presented such shows as A Brief History Of Drag; Irreplaceable, his Bowie tribute; Velma Celli’s Equinox, “the one with witches, creeps and freaks”, and Outlaw Live!, his York Gin night at the National Centre for Early Music.

Velma has a residency at the Impossible Wonderbar, in St Helen’s Square, where upcoming shows include Velma Celli’s Equinox on October 31 and Velma Celli’s West End Christmas on December 16, as well as The Velma Celli Show on July 29, September 30 and November 25.

Here in York, Ian also has presented the Ian Stroughair Jazz Band’s jazz and blues gigs at Nola, the 1920s’ Art Deco-themed restaurant and bar in Lendal, and starred in York Stage’s debut pantomime, playing the villainous Flesh Creep in Jack And The Beanstalk at Theatre@41, Monkgate, in December 2020.

Tickets for September 9 cost £22.90 upwards on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Ian Stroughair as Flesh Creep in York Stage’s 2020 pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Aled Jones and Russell Watson team up again for Christmas at York Barbican

Aled Jones and Russell Watson: New album, new tour, with a Christmas theme

ALED Jones and Russell Watson are to reunite for Christmas 2022 with a new album and tour, taking in York Barbican on December 6.

Performing together again after a three-year hiatus, the classical singers will embark on a November and December itinerary to coincide with the November 4 release of Christmas With Aled And Russell. 

Available to pre-order now, the album features new recordings of traditional carols such as O Holy Night, O Little Town Of Bethlehem and In The Bleak Midwinter, alongside festive favourites White Christmas, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Little Drummer Boy and Mistletoe And Wine.

In addition, Jones and Watson are recording a duo rendition of Walking In The Air – first sung by boy soprano Aled in 1982 for the animated film The Snowman – specially for the new record.

Bangor-born tenor Jones, 51, says: “After a crazy couple of years for us all, I can’t wait to be reunited with my mate Russell again for our third album together! I’ll always be associated with Christmas, so it’s an honour to be working with him.

“We always have a blast on tour, so getting to sing our favourite Christmas songs together in so many stunning venues later this year will be a real treat! You never know, ‘Traffic Cone’ might even make an appearance…and hopefully Chicago has given Russ the chance to brush up on his dancing skills!”

Salford tenor Watson, 55, who has been playing slick lawyer Billy Flynn in the 2022 tour of Chicago, says: “Aled and I had a great time recording our first two albums, so I’m immensely excited to be back in the studio together working on our third. We had a really tough time choosing from so many magnificent Christmas songs, but we’ve whittled it down to a fabulous selection of tracks which truly mean something to us both.

“And to get to share a stage again during our UK tour later this year will be such a special experience after three years apart. I hope Christmas With Aled And Russell is on all of your Christmas lists, and I can’t wait to see you all on tour throughout November and December!”

Aled & Russell: Third album of duets

Christmas With Aled And Russell will be looking to match the success of 2018’s In Harmony and 2019’s Back In Harmony, after both recordings topped the UK Classical Album Chart and made the top ten of the UK Official Album Chart.

Classical crossover singer Jones has released more than 40 albums and achieved more than 40 silver, gold and platinum discs since his chorister days when Walking In The Air brought him fame at 12.

In November 2020, he released Blessings, a multi-faith album featuring songs from different religions, and in February 2022, he reached the semi-finals of ITV’s The Masked Singer in the guise of Traffic Cone.  

He has pursued a career as a television and radio presenter too, at present hosting a weekly show on Classic FM and BBC One’s Sunday staple, Songs Of Praise. 

Watson’s debut album, 2000’s The Voice, topped both the British and USA classical charts, making him the first British male artist to attain a simultaneous transatlantic number one.

Watson has performed for HM The Queen, the late Pope John Paul II and former USA Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

He last played York Barbican in a Sunday matinee in November 2021 on his 20th Anniversary Of The Voice tour.

Tickets for December 6’s 8pm performance of Christmas With Aled & Russell are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jake and Darren are so happy to have their day cutting loose in Footloose The Musical

One giant leap for…Jake Quickenden, playing cowboy Willard in Footloose The Musical

DANCING On Ice winner Jake Quickenden and doyen of the musicals Darren Day are heading for York Theatre Royal in Footloose The Musical next week.

The show is based on the 1984 film, the one with such hits as Holding Out For A Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the title track, wherein American teenage city boy Ren McCormack is forced to move from Chicago to the rural backwater of Bomont after his father deserts him.

Things go from bad to worse when Ren finds out that dancing and rock music are banned there, but taking matters into his own hands, he soon has all hell breaking loose and the whole town on its feet. 

In Racky Plews’s touring production for Selladoor Productions and Runaway Entertainment, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! contestant and Hollyoaks actor Quickenden plays lovable cowboy Willard Hewitt, while Day takes the role of Reverend Shaw Moore.

“I used to work as a bricklayer at the steelworks in Scunthorpe, where I was born, and Willard is a cowboy and a bit of a mechanic, so I can do the physical stuff,” says Jake, 33. “He’s fun to play; he’s quite stupid – I don’t have to get into character!

“It’s a fun, upbeat song-and-dance show, where everyone knows the words, and it’s all actor-musos, playing instruments, rather than just having a band.”

What’s your instrument? “I play the guitar on four or five songs. I’ve played the guitar for about nine years now, self-taught, starting when I was 23/24, doing it from YouTube,” says Jake, who also picked up Willard’s accent from watching a few TV shows and You Tube. “If I’m honest, I picked it up quite quickly when, as a northern lad, I normally don’t find accents that easy.”

Jake, who played the title role in Peter Pan at Blackpool Opera House, toured with The Dreamboys and starred in the 50th anniversary of Hair The Musical, is teaming up with Darren Day for the first time. 

“I’d never met him before. He’s an absolute pleasure to work with ; he’s been around the block doling musicals for three decade, and I’ve been picking up a lot from him. He’s such a humble guy,” he says. “It’s really important for the young people in the cast, straight out of performing arts schools, to have the chance to work with him.”

Darren, 53, says of his latest role: I’m so happy to be playing the Reverend. Over a decade ago, I met with the producers for Footloose and Chicago within about three months of each other. I was told I didn’t look old enough! So, the only downside of me playing these two roles back-to-back is that I must now look ‘old enough’.

O happy Day: Darren Day playing Reverend Moore in Footloose The Musical, as he ticks off one of his bucket list of roles he desperately wanted to do

“Since those meetings all those years ago, Billy Flynn and the Reverend have been on my bucket list of roles I desperately wanted to play, so to get the opportunity to play them both in one year is incredibly exciting for me and I feel deeply grateful.

“Having a teenage daughter myself in real life, I have a lot of ‘method’ experience to draw upon [for Reverend Moore]! It’s tough letting your ‘little princess’ out into the big bad world!”

Darren is revelling in being in Racky Plews’s touring show. “This production of Footloose is particularly special. Even if you have seen it before, you will want to see it again, and this new version will blow you away. It’s been reworked with a new set, new costumes. The lot,” he says.

“Racky has brought an edgy and exciting new take on the show. She’s been working closely with the writer of the original movie and songs, Dean Pitchford, and his input into this new production has been invaluable.”

Assessing what keeps Footloose both fresh and popular at the box office, Darren says:  “The great thing about Footloose, which I think separates it from other ‘jukebox’ shows, is that Dean Pitchford wrote the songs specifically for the movie. 

“So, not only are these songs instantly recognisable the second the intro begins, they also carry the plot forward in a very truthful way. Apologies for that sounding incredibly ‘arty’ and ‘theatrical’, but they do!

“In the show there are these massive hit tunes that everyone recognises, along with a strong and beautiful storyline. It’s a really feel-good show – no doubt about it.”

Meanwhile, Jake continues to enjoy taking on challenges, whether winning Dancing On Ice in 2018, heading to the Aussie jungle, doing musicals and pantomime or making his soap opera debut in Hollyoaks. “It was just a guest appearance in eight episodes, playing a character called Woody, and funnily enough he was a builder,” he says. Was he killed off? “No, he wasn’t! I’d love to go back.”

Now, Jake is riding out as cowboy Willard. “I love testing myself doing new things, giving everything a go once, and I’ve really loved doing musicals. Though I’ve done things where I might not do them again, like The Dreamboys [the male revue show]. I tried it, enjoyed it, but I’d like to move on. It didn’t push me to do what I want to do, but it’s good for keeping in shape!”

Footloose gotta cut loose at York Theatre Royal from March 29 to April 2 (not from March 28, as first announced). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.