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Velma Celli's A Brief History of Drag - Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
More versatile than vermicelli
Englishman Ian Stroughair rocked Chapel off Chapel in his recent performance of Velma Celli's A Brief History of Drag. An immediate presence on stage, the larger than life character 'Velma' quickly had the audience singing, bopping and clapping along to an energy packed program of songs.

Velma Celli's: A Brief History of Drag - Review
Velma Celli - no icon of drag queen parody is safe in this 75 minute show

Immaculately made up, right down to the gorgeous spangled dress, over the top makeup, and impressive (though not entirely reliable) multi-coloured nails, Velma is tall, athletically built and commands the audience's attention from the start. But what of the voice?

Velma sings beautifully too. No icon of drag queen parody is safe in this 75-minute show. Hitting the stage with Lady Gaga's Marry the Night, we quickly realise that, unlike many other artists in this genre, Velma does her own - very musical - take on these songs, rather than trying to replicate the original artist, (or, horror of horrors, lip sync to the track from the original artist).

After going through the rather complex process of changing from her 'house' shoes into her 'show' shoes (with the help of an audience member) Velma is soon back on song with - what else, but Sex is in the Heel, from Kinky Boots.

Velma Celli's: A Brief History of Drag - Review
Life's never a drag with Velma on stage

While the show is entitled A Brief History of Drag, Velma informs the audience that it is more a brief overview of Velma's own life as a drag queen. And so, the audience is treated to some insights of Velma's evolution, from the first tentative (high heeled) steps to the strong, confident performer we now see.

Velma is not afraid to have a dig at the audience either, with a pout here and a snipe there, when our response was not entirely to her liking. Velma even made an (by her own admission not entirely successful) attempt at an Australian accent.

While it was a strong performance throughout, I felt Velma truly hit her (stiletto) straps, in a musical sense, with the first of two inspired medleys she sang which took us through a selection of Britney Spears, Tina Turner, Anastasia, Shakira and Cher.

The second medley (the big finale) was a selection of Priscilla Queen of the Desert favourites. These selections demonstrated Velma's range and capability as a singer, as well as her ability to thoroughly engage the audience.

After the show, I had another of Velma's numbers I Am What I Am from La Cages Aux Folles going through my head, and pondered whether it perhaps summed up Velma's outlook on life.

Velma Celli's: A Brief History of Drag - Review
Sadly only a short season in Melbourne - hope she comes back!

My partner Dave (who saw the show with me) made an interesting observation after the show, and that is that he hopes Velma/Stroughair does not restrict her/himself to performing drag. Nothing wrong with drag, it's just that Stroughair is clearly a multi-talented performer whom we could see fitting in equally well to other performance genre - stage musicals in particular.

The wonder of it is that A Brief History of Drag played for two nights only in Melbourne. With Midsumma just getting underway now, why, I can't help but wonder, was Velma not scheduled to perform in Melbourne a few days later and participate in Midsumma? It is, as Velma herself might very dramatically say, a travesty!

There are future performances scheduled for other other states, so if you have the opportunity to see Velma there, do! Otherwise, keep an eye on the Velma Celli Cabaret Facebook page for upcoming shows.

These are the scheduled shows:

25th January: Brunswick Heads (Brunswick Heads Picturehouse),
4th February: Sydney (The Factory Theatre), and
7th February: Perth (De Parel Spiegeltent: Fringe World).

This clip of Velma Celli performing live Performance at Pride in London 2017 gives you a good idea of what to expect:

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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? If you're lucky, you may get a stick on fingernail as a souvenir
When: Not currently scheduled to play in Melbourne
Where: Check the Velma Celli Cabaret Facebook page for upcoming shows
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