The Velma Celli Show ☆☆☆☆
The Piano Works West End
If Marks & Spencer had the vision to add a side of drag cabaret to their Meal Deals you might just end up with something like the perfectly portioned Velma Celli at The Piano Works. It’s a mid week splurge of tastily done comfort food with a few classy or exotic ingredients making you feel like you strayed to the right side of naughty
As a venue The Piano Works West End is worryingly close to the slouching chaos of Leicester Square but saved by its proximity to the west end musical theaters. Meaning it manages to snag a fun musical crowd who go to the West End for a good time but won’t have most of it spilt down their front by the end of the night. Staffed by people who are often performers themselves the venue mainly hosts nights that either are designed to sing along with a band that does requests in the main bar (a slightly straighter crowd) or more intimate piano bar style musical numbers in the cabaret room. Cocktails and a few queens anyone?
The venue also books guest cabaret performers, curated by Creative Director Drew Baker. This week Velma Celli (Ian Stroughair) was in a too brief residence. Velma is the cougar of drag cabaret, with the experience to take command and the skill to make it worthwhile.
An accomplished West End performer Velma knows how to press the right emotional buttons at the right time better than an X rated Disney. Where some live singers have a few warm up songs to ease them into the evening and then find it hard to make back up the ground with an audience big voiced Velma belted out Marry the Night as the first number. With cropped hair, big eyes and some projectile fake nails Velma had the audience swinging on his/her chandelier earrings before the chorus kicked in.
While Celli does the songs of the divas it is not really about impersonation. Medleys are used with a nod to the original singers in order to get the audience involved and singing along. So you get a brief touch of a broke down baby voiced Britney, a reminiscent yodel of Shakira, followed by a Cher drawl and a quick Bassey boom.
Celli is best when taking a complete song and using powerhouse vocals to own it. Highlight of the night was the familiar I Need Somebody to Love by Queen. There were also more bravely unfamiliar songs from the quickly shut down Boy George musical Taboo. Even when getting down and dirty by converting Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ to Velma’s ‘Swallow’ the big voice worked hard for the money.
Celli’s performance is literally the other side of town from the unbridled (but fun) chaos of East End boozer and bender drag pubs. It’s measured, packaged and presented with polish. If you like a singalong that takes you to the edge but not over it, and don’t feel the need to have a neck tattoo to join in the fun, then watch out for his/her future performances over the summer at the Underbelly Festival at the South Bank on July 15 and 16. Failing that try out The Piano Works West End (or sister bar The Piano Works Farringdon) when you fancy a slightly more upscale but still throat stretching night out.
Review by Andrew Hebden
Queerguru Correspondent Andrew Hebden is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.
P.S You may like to also check out our interview with Velma that we filmed last summer