Rhonda Burchmore has joined the cast, taking up the leading role in Cabaret de Paris, the French inspired variety show directed by Michael Boyd, is coming to Adelaide and Sydney later this year.
We had a chat to Rhonda Burchmore in July, the day after Melbourne went into lockdown number 5 and Rhonda had fled Melbourne (COVID negative and vaccinated) to head up to the Gold Coast to rehearse for Cabaret de Paris.
Such a lot has happened since then – the Adelaide show had to be postponed, the Perth show was able to go ahead but Rhonda Burchmore wasn’t able to appear in person so appeared via video link. We’ve edited this interview to remove references to things Rhonda Burchmore had planned for the intervening period between us speaking to her in mid-July and now.
Rhonda Burchmore, you’re a newcomer to Cabaret de Paris. Could you please tell us a little bit about the show.
I’ve been in the business for an awfully long time. I’m celebrating 40 years in the business. It’s an awfully long time; a lot of shows, a lot of everything and I was flattered – I’d heard of the show before and how wonderful it was and how lavish and all of those things.
Marisa was originally the lead girl in the show, but she’s more of a dancer, a very famous French Moulin Rouge dancer – well I’m certainly not. I said to Michael when he approached “look, I’m spoiled to be doing this but you know I’m gonna have to Rhonda-fy everything about it because I am a singer first and foremost and I don’t speak French.”
I think that to the beautiful French population, it would be an insult for me to be insulting them speaking my shocking French so I’m giving the flavour of French and French performance and hopefully elegant and leggy and singing French songs.
I lead the programme. I’ve seen the Lido and the Moulin Rouge. I’m more of a host to this glorious extravaganza. I’m the kind of glue in the show of bringing it all together. You know and obviously singing everything from I love Paris to La vie en rose to Hymne de l’amour. Some very powerful Piaf and French songs.
I’m doing a lovely Marlene Dietrich mash up. I love watching her I just think she’s just the epitome of glamour and style. And I actually wear [an outfit] – like when she had the men’s suit and the top hat.
I think all that might have the feeling of wonderful French burlesque cabaret will be created. And, of course, the gorgeous dancers, Matt Browning, who is the choreographer -we’ve worked a lot so he knows what I can do so that’s why I am up here [in the Gold Coast for rehearsals with the dancers]. And with beautiful boy dancers, and of course those gorgeous, very leggy showgirls.
You’ve performed across the world. You’ve performed on Broadway; you’ve performed in the West End in London. Have you ever taken your shows to France?
No, I love everything about France. The last time I was there, it was a mother daughter trip, and I just loved the place. I walked more than on foot that I’ve ever in my life
It’s easy to do that. It’s easy – except for the walk up to Sacré Coeur.
My runners ran out! We had to go into the Printemps with my dreadful old runners and we bought some new ones and the girls actually disposed of them down some chute. And they laughed a lot.
It is such a magical city, and just the most beautiful place and we were there actually when Notre Dame had the dreadful fire. That was really one of my last big trips away. So now, you think about how good it was when we could travel and being in places like that. And I think probably this is the closest thing, to a lot of the audiences, that we’re going to get to the Moulin Rouge and whatever because it’ll be a while before anyone can go back there.
This is the closest we can get at the moment and we need the escapism as well.
Absolutely. The last 24 hours, it’s been a whirlwind but the night before I went to the opening of Frozen the musical in Melbourne. And it was just so joyous to be back in the theatre. And then only, you know, 12 hours later…[Melbourne announces an upcoming lockdown].
You know, I just, it’s crazy. What a difference, not even a day can make with the pandemic.
It’s just, not only for mental health, but for all the people in the arts, it’s just been devastating. You know, there’s no relief, there’s nothing and you know, we can’t prove that we work 20 hours a week. We might be doing it rehearsing but it’s not on paper.
It’s really terrible that there’s just been no support whatsoever.
No support. And that is why yesterday I didn’t care what I had to do to get on that flight. We need to get out there and actually do what we do.
If there’s a little window there…we took it yesterday and thankfully I did because I wouldn’t have been able to rehearse with the dancers from tomorrow. Michael suggested we do a zoom and I said, I cannot do a burlesque strip, by zoom showing where the men are taking off this and that. You can’t do that and it does my head in when it’s in reverse on that on your phone!
It’s a blessing that I’m up here and I can work with the dancers.
Have you worked with Michael before?
No, I haven’t. I’d known of him, he’s a charming man. And full kudos to him, too, for him in these times, and any other producer to try to get things up and on. He’s been doing it for a long time, too and it’s got a very good reputation. And as I said, I know some of the dancers; we’ve done some corporate things, some of the girls have danced with me.
As I said, Matt Browning, who’s choreographing it, he’s been in my life, nearly 10 years, you know, doing shows on and it’s a really lovely chemistry there.
You’ve definitely got some familiar faces in the cast and crew.
Michael is very, very thrilled about this. I’m bringing to the show quite an extraordinary wardrobe, I’ve got the most glorious gowns, Many of them are having an outing. In terms of the budget, it would probably be the whole budget for the show if he was going to buy them! But these things already exist and he is so thrilled. A lot of those are going to be shown – every time I come out and do a number, it’ll be a dazzling gown so I think the audience will love that too.
You’re bringing some of your own gowns to the show?
Well, most of them. The gorgeous Marisa that was doing it, she was very different height and a different shape. And Michael said, “oh you know, pop into Marissa’s”. I’m much taller and have a different shape and I am not going to be wearing a G string at my age. It’s a bit like Cher when she did turn back time!
I think it will be elegant, it will still be leggy, but I’m more than aware to present myself in a way that is still hopefully attractive and leggy but with taste. I think the audiences will be happy with that, too. I’ll leave all that G string and booby stuff to those 19-20 year old girls.
Yeah, they can definitely do that!
That’s what they’re made for those girls. And I will sing and host and, and I strut a bit of leg in the meantime as well.
And you’ve got that little burlesque number.
Absolutely. It’ll take a while to study that one.
You’re singing a few songs in French and some French songs in English?
I’m not singing any French, maybe one or two lines. But as I said, La Vie en Rose, obviously, the titles, but I’m not singing the whole thing [in French]. The other thing too is that I didn’t want any comparison at all with Marissa. Rather than someone stepping into someone else’s role, a lot of the songs are brand new songs and brand new choreography and those all sorts of things. So, the people that have seen it before will be thrilled to see different big production numbers and hopefully some glorious singing.
You might not be singing in French but do you have a favourite French song?
My two favourites are La vie en rose and Hymne de l’amour. And they’re both in the show.
I’ve seen Piaf do Hymne de l’amour and I think it’s the most glorious ode and passionate. I may not be singing it in, in the French language, but it will be very, very heartfelt and very emotional. She was my source too, because she, I’ve seen her do it both in English and in French. Either or, her version is masterful, play of love and all those wonderful things that I hope I can bring to that song.
You mentioned that you had been to Paris when the Notre Dame fire had happened on a mother-daughter trip? Did you go to the Moulin Rouge or the Lido or any of the Parisian revues on that trip? Or have you been in the past?
I’ve been in the past and we went again. There’s nothing like when you go through the streets and you see the windmill out the front. Many of my friends have danced in the Moulin Rouge over the years. It’s something that is obviously a tourist attraction, but you can’t go to Paris without going to it at least once.
It’s that wonderful spectacular and a distraction from all things that we’re going through at the moment. I think the show is breathtakingly beautiful, and joyous. As I said, it’s probably the closest we’ll get.
The other thing is that this show is a full extravaganza with illusions and acrobatic acts and all sorts of different things. I don’t think there’s anything of this quality going around Australia.
No, it’s definitely in a class of its own without sounding too cliché.
For the big finale, Michael has actually created for me, something which I’ve never worn in my life. You know how they wear those harnesses with the feathers? It will be seriously Big Bird coming out! I am six foot and then even taller with heels on and I wear very high heels. So, it will be big bird spectacular with the plumage!
We had quite a problem with [airport] security yesterday – the feathers weren’t attached – they didn’t want to let it through but fortunately, another person knew who I was and said “of course” when I explained it was going to be for me. We got it over and on the plane. So fingers crossed, we get it into Adelaide!
I mean, it’s not the kind of things you want to put in your check in luggage…
It’s too fragile and the wires that go over holders and it’s quite something, but I’ll find out tomorrow, what it’s all about.
And if I can wear it with high heels and you know, all of that stuff. I’m always, even though I’m at a certain age, I’m ready for a new adventure and I think this will be certainly one.
Yes, it sounds like it will be! You mentioned that you’ve got a concert, all things going well in the outback, and then in Darwin.
Yeah, I’ve got a very big concert in the outback. I get flown and driven into the red hot dust out there. And then I do a big concert there. And then I’m hosting and performing the anthem for the Darwin Cup one week later. And in the meantime, I’ve also got my own show Glamazonia touring, hopefully around Australia. That’s what I’m saying if you feel ill…
Then rehearsals at the same time for Cabaret de Paris!
Yes, and recording a big band Album at the same time.
So why not throw another thing in there? Are you mad?
Am I mad? Am I nervous? We all thought, obviously, this time last year, that it would certainly all be over by now. We had so much work last year that had to be deferred to this year, and so that’s why I’ve got all this stuff. And then we hit this so it’s very, very stressful. But it’s gonna be worth it. When I step on the old stage, and get back to what I really loved doing.
It must be so hard to not be able to do what you love.
Well, it’s like – the nearest thing for me is – if you take away a little kid’s favourite Teddy bear. Just to try to stay positive. That’s the hardest thing at the moment. Because we’re rehearsing for things and we don’t know if and when it’s even going to happen and how many times can we do that and stay positive?
I’ve got a good feeling about this. And with Cabaret de Paris showing at the gorgeous Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide. I’m one of the ambassadors for that beautiful theatre. I haven’t seen it since the renovations so I’m really looking forward to that. And just getting back into a theatre. With that old cliche that “the Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd”, very much.
How long are you going to be spending in rehearsals for Cabaret de Paris
We’ve got four intense days this week and then I go to the outback, and then it’s like, spinning a roulette wheel at the moment to know where the next lot of rehearsals will be whether they’ll be back here on the Gold Coast or whether they’ll be in Melbourne or whether we will come into Adelaide early. That’s what we’re that’s how we kind of playing at the moment.
So, you’ve got four days lined up and then plan it from there.
Absolutely. Well, we’ll have a very solid and even if we have to do a few pickups with zoom and stuff, if I’ve got those boys, you know, saying this is what happens here and walking, you know, with the girls, you know, mapping it out rather than just on a you know, a phone over zoom. I will feel, and I know Michael, will feel very much more confident.
Especially in the Marlena Dietrich strip. That’s the one that worries me most of all, because it’s like a fan dance and it’s not something you’ll learn in an afternoon. That was the glorious skill of Marissa, who was a dancer and a Moulin Rouge girl she’d been doing that all her life. For her, it’s second nature where for me something like that, for me to attempt this is something very, very new.
So, I’ll be investing a lot of time in the next four days and you know, trying to be as good as I can. Because I don’t want it to be a comedy like the Lucille Ball show or something! I’m in safe hands with Matt and Michael.
Yes, it sounds like you very much are and you’ve put your mind to a lot of different things and you’ve conquered them so I don’t think the fan dance is going to be the thing that lets you down.
No, compared to surviving I’m a celebrity, get me out of here in the jungle for 6 weeks and being the last woman standing, this is a walk in the park!
Definitely. Rhonda, is there anything else you wanted to tell me about the show that we haven’t already covered?
It’s a bit cliché but it’s true, but when I was young, I always admired those girls so much. And because I was obviously very, very tall, it was seen by some as the obvious path for me to go to the Moulin Rouge or to do that, and I never did. And it’s funny how some things, no matter what age you are, come back.
I would never have thought even a year ago that I would possibly be doing this. I’m thrilled to kind of live out one of my childhood fantasies to be up there with the girls and the feathers and the boys doing this big French spectacular.
Yes. Just that you don’t have to wear the G strings!
No g-strings and no tassels on my boobies! No, I’m fully covered! I’ll leave it to the young girls to do that, yeah. I’ll be a very elegant grande dame. That kind of feel with all of her glorious fillies around.
We thank Rhonda Burchmore for her time and look forward to seeing her in Cabaret de Paris.
KEY INFO FOR CABARET DE PARIS STARRING RHONDA BURCHMORE:
WHAT: Cabaret de Paris
WHERE & WHEN:
Adelaide: Her Majesty’s Theatre 6 & 7 December
Sydney: State Theatre, 22 & 23 October
TICKET PRICES AND TICKET SELLERS:
ADELAIDE: Ticket prices range from $69 plus booking fee for C Reserve to $129 plus booking fee for premium.
Purchase Adelaide tickets here: https://www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/events/cabaret-de-paris/
SYDNEY: $60 to $233.33 for VIP experience
Purchase Sydney tickets here: https://www.ticketmaster.com.au/artist/2143018
ALL CITIES – VIP Experience $229.00:
VIP Experience includes premium seating, a Cabaret De Paris VIP lanyard, 1 souvenir programme per couple, 1 beverage token per person, priority queuing at theatre bars, Q&A session post-show and photo opportunity with Rhonda Burchmore and the showgirls.