Mission Impossible! Velma Celli finds new wonderbar home for York drag residency

“It’s happening!” says Velma Celli as York cabaret star moves residency to Impossible, York, from next month. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Photography

YORK’S drag diva deluxe Velma Celli is on the move.

Out goes the Covid-suspended monthly camp cabaret Friday nights at The Basement, City Screen, York.

In comes a resplendent residency from next month at Impossible, York, Tokyo Industries’ new tea-room, cocktail bar, restaurant and speakeasy enterprise in the old Terry’s café in St Helen’s Café, latterly home to Carluccio’s restaurant.

“It’s happening!” says an excited Velma Celli, the exotic international drag alter ego of musical actor Ian Stroughair, last seen on a York stage in December as the villainous Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, at Theatre @41, Monkgate.

“Velma has a new residency!! My very first live gig at the utterly fabulous Impossible, York. May 21st.  Doors 7pm. Show 8pm! My very special guest is [York soul sister] Jessica Steel (obvs). More special West End guests to be announced! Grab those tickets as it will sell out!”

Take that advice, Velma insists. “50 per cent of tickets have gone! If you want to come to opening night, don’t wait to book! This baby is flying!!!!”

Tickets are on sale at https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/the-velma-celli-show-impossible-york-tickets/10900325, priced at £22 for VIP front cabaret table seats and £16.50 for reserved seating.

“Basically, it’s replacing the shows at The Basement, where we don’t know when it will reopen for shows under Covid guidance as it’s a small space,” says Ian, as he switches from the impossible to Impossible, York.

“I met the Impossible manager, Stephanie, in December, meeting her between Jack And The Beanstalk shows, and then five weeks ago she knocked on the window saying, ‘I’ve been trying to contact you!’.

How the other half lives: Exit alter ego Velma Celli, enter Ian Stroughair, musical actor, playing Fleshius Creepius in York Stage’s pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk

“And so the first Velma Celli Show there will be on May 21, up the stairs, in the fabulous Impossible Wonderbar setting overlooking the square, with more shows to be announced later. This one will be fun, comedic, with stand-up, impressions, the usual mix of rock, pop and the blues, plus Jess and guests.”

Ian first moved back to York for Lockdown 1 when the pandemic sent him home from a Velma Celli Australian tour and he plans to settle back in his home city permanently from May, travelling to London for three days a week when necessary.

Streamed concerts, first from a Bishopthorpe kitchen and latterly from a riverside abode by the Ouse Bridge, have kept Velma Celli’s voice in spectacular working order, sometimes accompanied by Jessica Steel, leading light of Big Ian Donaghy’s fundraising A Night To Remember shows at York Barbican.

“Jess is reopening her salon [Rock The Barnet in Boroughbridge Road] from Monday, so we did our last stream together last night, Last Online – A Grand Finale, that ticket holders can see until Sunday,” says West End star Ian, who has appeared in such musicals as Cats, Fame, Chicago and Rent, but had to forego a long run in Funny Girls in Blackpool last year, thwarted by Killjoy Covid.

For the latest Velma Celli trailer, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a005o6eGZWI. Hit it!

First, Velma Celli’s divas take over her Bishopthorpe kitchen this weekend. Then, she can come to your place if you ask

Velma Celli’s show poster for Me & My Divas on Saturday

“DARLINGS, I am in London for a bit to try and get things moving and it’s safe to say that it is depressing as F!” So wrote York drag diva divine Velma Celli to her adoring devotees on email on Saturday lunchtime.

“Anyway, I’ll plod on as long as I can. So, I am doing my show ‘Me & My Divas’ next Saturday [June 27] and I would LOVE for you to join me LIVE from LANDAN!”

Since then, Velma, the glorious cabaret creation of actor Ian Stroughair, has returned to Bishopthorpe, from where his series of online performances, streamed live from the Case De Velma Celli kitchen, will resume this weekend.

Tickets for the 8pm show cost £7 at ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-me-live-stream-tickets/10614645. As always, tickets come off sale at 5pm and the link will be sent out at around 6pm

Here Charles Hutchinson has a quick catch-up with Velma in the lead-up to Saturday’s virtual date with divas galore.

“Crazy. talented and confidence to suit”: Velma Celli’s three steps to being a diva

How did it feel heading back to London from York after three months in home-town lockdown?

“It was both exciting and nerve-wracking…” 

…You say you went back to London to “try and get things moving”. What can you do at this stage?

“I was hoping to network with restaurants and other smaller venues planning to open on July 4, but it was impossible, so I’m back in York for two weeks.”

How did your last online York kitchen show, Equinox, go on June 13? What did you perform with your remote guest Jodie Steel, the West End star of Wicked, Six and Rock Of Ages?

“It was the best yet! SO much fun. Jodie and I sang Take Me Or Leave Me from Rent [the American musical in which Ian Stroughair played the messianic Angel].

What’s the history of Me & My Divas? 

“I first performed it in January this year in Perth, Australia, at Fringeworld, winning the Best Cabaret award for the season.” 

What’s the content of this new show?

“No diva is safe, no riff she won’t sing – so strap yourself in and let the belt-off begin.

“Me & My Divas is an overindulgent diva fest celebrating the songs and behaviour of all of your favourite divas, including Celine, Mariah, Whitney, Aretha, Cher, Britney (maybe not!) and many more.”

Definitely being one yourself, what are the qualifications required to be a diva, Velma?

“Crazy, talented and confidence to suit.”

Will you have a guest joining you remotely, like you did with Twinnie, Louise Dearman and Jodie Steel for your previous online shows?

“I am working on this. Hopefully I will.”

What are your upcoming plans as lockdown loosens ever more expansively?

“Darlings, you can now book Velma OR Ian to perform privately for your ‘Bubble’ in your outside space/garden or publicly if you have a venue with enough room for social distancing indoors or out!!!

“Get in touch if this is something you might be interested in at stroughair2@hotmail.com.”

“Expect a lot of belt and emotion,” says York drag diva Velma Celli as witching hour beckons for online Equinox show

Something fabulous..and wicked this way comes: Velma Celli to stream Equinox show in kitchen-sing drama

DRAG diva deluxe Velma Celli invites you to “join me in my kitchen as I celebrate all my favourite witchy and misunderstood characters from movies and musicals” online on Saturday night.

The cabaret creation of York actor Ian Stroughair will be presenting Velma’s hit show, Equinox, Something Fabulous This Way Comes, from Case de Velma Celli.

“Equinox is a love letter to all the witches and magical creatures who have graced our stages and screens, from Wicked to The Wizard Of Oz and every belty enchantress from the coven in between,” says Velma, who will sing her siren songs at the witching hour, “when daylight and darkness are almost equal”.

Since going into self-isolation in Bishopthorpe lockdown after an Australian tour, Ian has performed two Velma shows online: a fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice on May 2 and Large & Lit In Lockdown on May 16.

Tickets for show number three, Equinox, cost £7 at: ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-equinox-live-stream-tickets/10604915. Around 30 minutes ahead of the 8pm start, audience members will receive a link to watch the performance, which can be streamed on a PC or internet-enabled smart TV.

Charles Hutchinson puts the bewitching questions to a still virtual Velma Celli  

How did the Large & Lit In Lockdown show go? Did you have a special guest join you in remote mode?

“It was SO much fun. Sarah [Walker] and I have really fine-tuned the production of a show in a kitchen now during these bizarre times – said nobody EVER!

“I had West End superstar Louise Dearman join me for a remote duet. She’s immensely talented. Check out her albums on ITunes et al.”

How’s life in loosened lockdown ticking over for you after more than 75 days?

“I’m good. Taking each day as it comes and I’m trying to remain that way. As we know, theatre is most likely to be the last thing to open but I try not to think about that too much for my own sanity.”

“I understand the misunderstood and the outcasts, what with being a member of the LGBTQI+ community,” says Ian Stroughair, the York actor behind the Velma Celli drag act

What is the history of your Equinox show? 

“I did a UK tour of Equinox first. Rare to get that opportunity but it came right off the back of a hit run of my show A Brief History Of Drag, so I said ‘Yes’, having not yet written the show!

“We’ve played a tour of Australia too and, of course, the West End.”

What draws you towitchy and misunderstood characters from movies and musicals?

“Just my upbringing of The Wizard Of Oz and The The Wiz and the like. It was when the old movies were still treasured and we watched them as a family.”

Were you always drawn to them? Do you feel a connection by any chance?!

“I think I might be drawn to them because I understand the misunderstood and the outcasts, what with being a member of the LGBTQI+ community.”

Who and what features in Equinox and why?

“All your fave witchy, dark, fabulous witch moments in musical theatre and the movies. Ursula to Elphaba and everything in between.”

What do you most enjoy about the witching/bewitching hour?

“It’s a time to unleash the magic and be utterly awesome.”

What costume can the online audience look forward to this weekend?

“A fabulous black dress.”

Any guest contributors popping up or will you be flying solo?

“I’ll have West End star Jodie Steele joining me, remotely again of course. She’s appeared in Wicked, Rock Of Ages and Six, to name but a few.”

What will be the closing number and why?

“I can’t tell you. It’s the finale and a girl NEVER tells…just expect a lot of belt and emotion.”

Velma and Jodie: Silk and Steele on Saturday