Velma Kelly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Velma Kelly
Chicago character
Created byMaurine Dallas Watkins
Portrayed byBroadway stage:
Chita Rivera
Caroline O'Connor
Bebe Neuwirth
Reva Rice
Pia Douwes
Ute Lemper
Irish production:
Lisa Kelly
2013 Hollywood Bowl production:
Samantha Barks
2002 film version:
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Silent film version:
Julia Faye
Stage play:
Juliette Crosby
Roxie Hart:
Helene Reynolds
Nightclub singer
ResidenceChicago, Illinois, United States

Velma Kelly is one of the main characters in the successful Broadway musical Chicago. She is a nightclub singer/vaudevillian who was accused of murdering 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.

Historical basis[edit]

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 in the front seat of Belva's car with a bottle of gin and a gun beside him that had discharged three cartridges. 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.[citation needed] 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."[citation needed] Her defense in court 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.

Notable portrayals[edit]

Women who have portrayed Velma on the Broadway stage include: Chita Rivera, Caroline O'Connor, Bebe Neuwirth, Reva Rice, Pia Douwes and Ute Lemper. She was portrayed by Lisa Kelly in the Irish production. Samantha Barks starred as Velma in the 2013 Hollywood Bowl production.

In 1999, Neuwirth had to go back on stage and play Velma Kelly with only two days notice because 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.[1] 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. The 2002 film version of the musical features Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly. She received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a BAFTA Film Award for her role.[citation needed]

Prior to the 1975 debut of the stage musical, Kelly 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[2] and by Julia Faye in the silent film.[3]

In the 1942 post-Code sanitized film, Roxie Hart, her name was "Velma Wall" and she was portrayed by Helene Reynolds.[4]

Musical numbers[edit]

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, 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.


  1. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence. "FOOTLIGHTS", New York Times, January 14, 1999; accessed March 21, 2010.
  2. ^ Chicago (1926 play) details,; accessed October 3, 2015.
  3. ^ Chicago (1927 film) details,; accessed October 3, 2015.
  4. ^ Roxie Hart (1942 film) details,; accessed October 3, 2015.