BWW REVIEW: Velma Celli's A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRAG Is A Fantastic Celebration Of A Beautifully Bold Artform
Monday 4th February 2019, 7:30pm, The Factory Theatre, Marrickville
The bold, brilliant and beautiful Velma Celli made her Sydney debut to an enthralled crowd with her informative, intimate and highly entertaining A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRAG. Sharing songs and stories, UK's queen of live vocal drag gave a diverse audience an insight into the sequin and glitter world of guys dressed as girls.
In A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRAG, the statuesque Celli shares not only a history of the overall Drag genre but also her own evolution from West End musical theatre singer and dancer Ian Stroughair to the celebrated Drag performer famous for presenting live performances of songs around the world. With support from Steven Kreamer on keys and back-up vocals from Eliza Jackson, who also doubles as director, powerful ballads and iconic anthems pepper the work that is presented with not only strength but also vulnerability and honesty.
In towering mirrored "day shoes", which quickly get swapped for covetable crystal encrusted stilettos, a backless micro mini dress of iridescent leaf shaped paillette sequins, and a liberal dose of glitter eyeshadow to match the featured footwear, the boy from Yorkshire's alter ego takes to the intimate stage for the 80 minute show. Refreshingly, Celli has opted to forgo the traditional weave of her drag sisters in favour of Stroughair's shorter cropped blonde locks, adding to the uniqueness of her image. The evening has the intimacy of a cabaret show and the sound of a mainstage concert (albeit a little overblown for the small space at times which hopefully is the venue will rectify for future shows it hosts) whilst Celli utilises the space well, including getting up close and personal, perched on the edge of the stage, and also interacting with Kreamer and Jackson with a delightful warmth and playfulness.
Velma Celli, who draws her name from the show Stroughair was performing in and the meal he was eating at the time of her drag-birth, delivers and evening that celebrates the Queens that paved the way for it to safer for Drag Queens and the LGBTIQ community to perform and just generally be whilst also making the story personal. She honours them with the songs favoured by many performers but delivers them with her own amazing powerful voice in rich textured renditions that can both capture the passion and poignancy of pieces that range from pop songs to musical theatre favourites. Text driven pieces, like LA CAGE AUX FOLLES "I Am What I Am", QUEEN's "I Want To Break Free" and RENT's "No Day But Today" in particular, are presented with clarity to ensure that both underlying messages and the importance of the work to Celli are clear. She is a consummate cabaret performer as she connects with the audience with heartfelt stories that include self-deprecating humour and a sassy and sultry style that radiates joy beyond the physical expression.
Whilst Velma Celli's Sydney season of A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRAG was an all to brief one night only, she continues her Australian tour to Perth Fringe. For Sydneysiders though, hopefully she has had a taste of our town and will want to come back soon as she is definitely a must see.