Velma Kelly is one of the main characters in the successful Broadway musical Chicago. The Velma Kelly in Chicago: The Movie is a nightclub singer/vaudevillian who was accused of murder of her husband and sister. She is sent to the Cook County Jail where she hires the best soliciting lawyer, Billy Flynn. Singing and dancing, and telling her side of the story, Kelly goes through her time at jail being the star until Roxie Hart comes into the picture.
Velma Kelly's character was based on a woman named Belva Gaertner. Belva was a cabaret singer who had been married and divorced twice. After those men had come and gone, she had a lover named Walter Law, who she thought was the right man for her. On March 11, 1924, Belva shot Law, who was already married with one child. Law was found with a bottle of gin and a gun that had three shots fired next to him in the front seat of Belva's car. The next day, she was found at her apartment with bloody clothes on the floor. She claimed that she had been drunk and couldn't remember what had happened. She was arrested for the murder of Walter Law on March 12, 1924. During her interview with Maurine Watkins, Gaertner told Watkins that "gin and guns- either one is bad enough, but together they get you in a dickens of a mess, don't they." In court, her defense was that he could have committed suicide, and she was released in June 1924. She remarried her husband William Gaertner and was later convicted of drunk driving in 1926. In 1927, she attended the opening of Watkins play Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
Women who have portrayed Velma on the Broadway stage include: Chita Rivera, Terra C. MacLeod, Amra-Faye Wright, Nancy Hess, Deidre Goodwin, Brenda Braxton, Caroline O'Connor, Roxana Carrasco, Bebe Neuwirth, Reva Rice, Donna Marie Asbury, Lori Ellis, Stephanie Brown, Holly Shepard, Pia Douwes and Ute Lemper. She was also portrayed by original and former Celtic Woman member Lisa Kelly in the Irish production. Samantha Barks starred as Velma in the 2013 Hollywood Bowl production. These women have played this role in multiple places throughout the world.
In 1999, Bebe Neuwirth had to go back on stage and play Velma Kelly with only two days notice because Ute Lemper, who was supposed to play her, was battling laryngitis and the flu for two weeks so her doctor recommended that she take some time off to rest. In 1997, Neuwirth won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Fred Astaire Award for her performance as Velma Kelly. Neuwirth came back 10 years later and played the other murderess, Roxie Hart. In 2014, she appeared in a limited engagement as Mama Morton.
Prior to the 1975 debut of the stage musical, Velma also appeared in the earlier incarnations of Watkins' story. In the original non-musical play that debuted on December 30, 1926, and in the silent film version released on December 27, 1927, Velma had no last name. She was played by Juliette Crosby in the stage play and by Julia Faye in the silent film. In the 1942 talkie version titled Roxie Hart, her name was "Velma Wall" and she was portrayed by Helene Reynolds.
Throughout the musical, Velma Kelly has many songs and dances that she performs, whether it be by herself or with an ensemble of people. The musical numbers she performs are:
- "All That Jazz" - performed in the opening act when she returns to the stage after killing her husband and sister, who were supposed to be part of the act as well. Once she is done performing, she is arrested for the murder she committed prior to the show.
- "Cell Block Tango" - Kelly and the rest of the women that have been convicted of murder explain their side of the story on how their husbands/lovers died through song and dance.
- "I Can't Do It Alone" - Since the media has lately focused solely on Roxie, Velma comes up with an idea that can put her back in the press. Velma tries to convince Hart to join her in a double-act, going through the different choreographies, verses, and stages of her performances that she did with her sister, knowing that it was once Hart's dream to be on stage with Velma.
- "My Own Best Friend" - Kelly and Hart, after both have been completely forgotten by the media, sing that the only people they can count on are themselves.
- "I Know a Girl" - Velma bitterly sings to the audience about Roxie Hart's recent good luck and notoriety.
- "When Velma Takes The Stand" - Velma sings to Billy Flynn what she plans to do at her trial when she takes the stand.
- "Class" - Matron "Mama" Morton and Velma Kelly lament the disappearing morals in modern society, ironically using many vulgar obscenities.
- "Nowadays" - The Hart/Kelly duo start their performance with this song.
- "Hot Honey Rag" - After singing "Nowadays", Kelly and Hart perform this dance.
- Van Gelder, Lawrence. "FOOTLIGHTS." New York Times 14 January 1999. New York Times. Web. 21 March. 2010.
- Internet Broadway Database webpage on Chicago (1926 play)
- Internet Movie Database webpage on Chicago (1927 film)
- Internet Movie Database webpage on Roxie Hart (1942 film)