When I heard Rhonda Burchmore was coming to Coffs Harbour, I knew it would be a great interview opportunity for FOCUS.
I have watched Rhonda on telly over the years; and really, how could you miss that gregarious personality, red hair, great smile and super long legs?
I did some research, read her bio and several previous interviews, so when I finally got the opportunity to speak with her, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Well, was I wrong – and not in the way you might expect. The person on the other end of the phone instantly made me feel welcomed, and I discovered a woman who is passionate about her family, her career, people and entertaining an audience.
I came away feeling just a little more than inspired and rushed to the bookshop to get myself a copy of her biography, Legs 11.
Having dabbled in the performing arts as a teenager and young adult, I instantly connected with her story. I remember announcing to my family at the tender age of 16 that I was performing in a show for the Sydney Festival, and my grandfather promptly told me to make sure I finished school and got a real job. I know his intentions were good, but that, coupled with the harsh reality of auditions and rejections, ultimately resulted in me pursuing a slightly less intimidating career … and all for the best, really.
So when I read in the opening chapters of her book: “Sometimes I feel life is a test and it constantly tempts you to take the easy option and give up the dream. Perhaps that’s God’s way of finding out how much you really wanted it in the first place”, I felt I’d discovered a kindred spirit. But enough about me.
At the age of 3, while attending her sister’s dance classes in Rockdale as a spectator, a passion for the limelight was born. Rhonda’s parents quickly realised her talent and as Rhonda said herself, gave her every opportunity they could to support her in her dream.
From casting her dolls in supporting roles of childhood plays, choreographing performances with her sister for eisteddfods, to casting her wheelchair bound history teacher as a mermaid in her high school production of The Cod Fish Ball, there was little stopping Rhonda Burchmore.
Despite a brief detour into teaching, partly to please her father, Rhonda’s career as a performer blossomed. In her own words: “Looking back, I now know that my dad’s concern for my career was from a deep love and care for me, not wanting to see his daughter hurt or cast aside, or financially disadvantaged by a ruthless industry.” With her own daughter now showing signs of being a performer, Rhonda works to strike a balance between encouraging her daughter to pursue her studies and also guiding and providing opportunities for her to explore her creative side.
One of Rhonda’s big international breaks came when she was performing in the production Sugar Babies in Australia and was asked to do the show in America at the Savoy Theatre alongside Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller – people she had grown up admiring from the golden era of Hollywood.
Having a career that spans 25 years as a legitimate singer, actor and dancer, together with the showgirl bling, you get a woman who is not afraid of hard work and is not prepared to pigeon hole herself. She has survived the industry through re-creating herself – by not saying she is just a singer, dancer or an actor, but a woman who can do all sorts of things. She has worked with some of the greats, including Geoffrey Rush in a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, had musicals written for her, appeared on Aussie shows like Hey Hey it’s Saturday, performed in the hit musical Mamma Mia, and even performed with President Clinton. The show reel goes on.
The day I spoke with her, she had done five totally different jobs in the past several days. Having arrived back from Sydney, she was off to Ballarat that afternoon and on to Manila the next day – doing everything from compering, to singing and even an intimate cabaret styled performance.
My head spins just at the thought of that kind of schedule, but Rhonda admits to being a homebody at heart. “I think I would be bored if I wasn’t doing all these things. I love the challenge of it all. I have a young daughter and two poodles who keep me on my toes, and when I am not performing, I’m a real homebody. I try to spend as much time as possible at home. When the make up comes off, I’m just a regular mum and wife, sitting at home watching telly with another glass of wine and a pizza.”
So just what can we expect from this diversely talented, down to earth, one woman show that is coming to Coffs Harbour on 24 July?
Her brand new show Legs 11 has been adapted as a stage show from her biography of the same name. Filled with songs and anecdotes from her career and people she has worked with along the way, be it Mickey Rooney, Anne Miller or Bill Clinton. The show goes through the ups and the downs of Rhonda’s career, and it’s a really personal insight into her life – all this woven together with songs from the musical theatre she has performed throughout her career.
All I can say is, if the show even remotely comes close to the humour and passion I encountered during our chat and the anecdotes I read in her book, we are all in for a show that should not be missed.
Story by Amy Heague.