Rhonda Burchmore remembers moments in her childhood familiar to many – pretending to perform like her music idols.
Talking to Starts at 60, the 6 foot-tall entertainer said in her case the band she was emulating was ABBA.
“My sister was blonde and beautiful and she used to think of herself as Agnetha, and I was red haired and thought I was Frida,” Burchmore said. “We used to get our hairbrushes out. The music has endured so long. You can’t go to a corporate event or a party that they don’t end up playing somewhere along the way ‘Dancing Queen’ or something.”
The music has also been the big inspiration behind her latest show ABBA-solutlely Fabulous currently touring Australia. Burchmore reveals how she came up with the idea of the show she is producing.
“I was in the original Mumma Mia! stage production back in 2001. I first met [co-star] Lara [Mulcahy] then. We had an amazing chemistry on stage and remained dear friends for the last 16 years. I just kind of thought, it’s 40 years since Abba’s been down here, so I rang Lara and said ‘why don’t we do our own little kind of show based on two girls growing up in the ’70s that never got to that ABBA concert?’.”
Just like the character she plays in the show, Burchmore never saw the band Abba perform live. She’s done the next best thing though, in meeting Benny and Bjorn, several times.
With the ABBA music comes one catch – the fashion. Lycra, and lots of it, which is something Burchmore said is both hysterical and unforgiving.
“The Lycra is crazy. To go out and get out into these skin tight Lycra suits that show everything. You can even my belly button. You can’t go and have a three course meal before you get into it, that’s for sure.” Even the boots, platforms of course, tell the story. “I’m like Bigfoot out there, and I’ve got white Lycra of all things.”
The early days have been sellouts. “We’re relieved we’ve got a hit on our hands. I’ve been in the industry for 35 years and I’ve never seen a response like it. The people are saying it’s not just a tribute Abba show it’s a celebration of friendship with music. That’s what great fun about it.”
With a crowd of mostly women in the audience Burchmore loves the reaction they get. “They know every word. It feels like a mosh pit. They sing along and dance along.”
While Burchmore is the first to admit her body shape is much to do with genetics, and most people would be ‘horrified’ at her eating habits, the show has been keeping her in great shape. “The show is the biggest work-out for two hours ever. I’ve never been on a diet.”
While she is aware of eating ‘pretty much’ healthily, listing fish, salads and vegies amongst her favourites, she also loves her ‘junk’ such as a glass (or four) of French champagne. “I’m not a desserts person or sweets person but I love my savoury and I eat at all the wrong times because of the shows that I do, but I don’t sit idle. I’m sure I’m going to have to look for things as I get older, but so far, so good.”
Burchmore also makes sure she fits in some R&R along the way. With a love of gardening, she has one area of her home filled with Terracotta pots. “When it all comes in to bloom it’s a real thrill for me.” She also has another passion; fishing, something she’s enjoyed ever since she was about 8 years of age. “Plus it’s getting out of the glamour gowns and into the trakkys and no make-up.”
The glamour gowns have been a big part of her life. Right from her younger years Burchmore knew she was going to perform. Growing up watching her sister in musical theatre, and despite going off to do a degree in teaching, she said her parents were greatly supportive of her career. “My mum used to make all my fabulous outfits.”
And what a career it is has been. Listing memories of working with Garry McDonald, Jackie Weaver, Mickey Rooney and Ann Millar, not to mention performing on variety shows like The Midday Show, The Mike Walsh Show, Don Lane Show and Midday with Kerri-anne Kennerley. “I had the privilege of working with bands in those incredible variety as we knew it. So many know me as a household name because I had that kind of opportunity, the exposure. I remember how lucky I was for having the opportunity, and to sing with live bands. There is nothing like that now. I see shows like The Voice and I lament that those poor kids don’t have the opportunities I had, and the regular exposure.”
She gained even more fans from her days on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, describing really good times the the Molly, Red, Wilbur, John Goodman and the crew. “A lot of those people didn’t know I sang and danced. I was just a bit of a dag on Celebrity Head or Red Faces. A lot of fans still remember that.”
“I’ve worked with extraordinary people, had a wonderful career, and still continue having it.”