No one epitomises theatrical glamour like Rhonda Burchmore, making her a fabulous guide to Melbourne's thespian scene

Rhonda Burchmore, celebrated chanteuse, grew up and studied in Sydney, but she’s called Melbourne home ever since she journeyed down here for her first stage role – over three decades ago.

“I’d just finished university and came down to They’re Playing Our Song, the original Australian run. I was on stage opposite John Waters and Jacki Weaver, two pretty fabulous people with which to start a run in show business. The show had a full orchestra, and a six-person ensemble of which I was one, playing mainly as Jacki’s character’s alter ego. On that same Melbourne trip I met my now-husband and decided to stay.”

This was a different time, when a night out on the town could likely be spent inside one of Melbourne’s many theatres. As Burchmore remembers, “That first show was at the Comedy Theatre. This was when there were continual musicals running all around Australia. In Melbourne, Exhibition Street was vibrant: the Comedy Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Princess Theatre were always alive with shows.”

Burchmore wasn’t exactly slumming it, up-and-coming-theatre-performer style, in those formative years. With a future husband well ensconced south of the river, she quickly fell in love that part of the world. “My introduction to Melbourne was in South Yarra. It was lovely – we lived in a terrace there, with the Botanic Gardens across the road and all those terrific shops down Domain Road. Lynch’s – a wonderful restaurant down there – was a common haunt, and with all those superb cafés it was a different lifestyle to what I’d led in Sydney as a student.”

Despite the fact that Burchmore always stands out in a crowd, both with her looks and her carrying voice, she likes to sneak out of the city. “When friends come to visit, especially from overseas, I first tend to whisk them out of the bustle of Melbourne, to somewhere like Healesville or Point Addis. Also, I’m a mad-keen fisherperson and I try and take friends out on the Bay. I’ve got a boat, so if it’s a calm day, we’ll go down Beaumaris way and throw a line in and have a bit of a fish.”

Of course, Burchmore is easily drawn back into Melbourne proper, not least by the restaurants, which she considers to be among the finest in the world. Yet fine dining can be tiring when it’s part of your job, particularly when you’re eating alongside professional acquaintances. “Because so much of my job is meeting and greeting at various events and whatnot, it’s sometimes nice to just go to Prahran Market or Melbourne Market, get some fresh food, and cook for some friends at home. That’s a real treat for me.”

Burchmore is still required to leave the city for work, sometimes just a hop and a skip to another capital city, but sometimes overseas for long stretches. However, despite the constant lure of international opportunities, Melbourne pulls her back. “Having a daughter, two dogs and a husband – not in that order – here in the city means that no matter where I go, Melbourne is home.”

Timeline

1960 Born in Sydney

1980 First ever stage role, appearing in Melbourne show They’re Playing Our Song

1982 First big film role, as Kate in The Pirate Movie

1988 Major theatre breakthrough, starring in Sugar Babies

1997 Opens Crown Casino with her cabaret spectacular, Red Hot & Rhonda

1997 Secures her first Broadway role, in Easter Parade

2001 Plays the role of Tina in the theatre production of Mamma Mia

2002 Nominated for a 2002 Mo Award for Female Musical Theatre Performer of The Year

2007 Lead role in Respect: A Musical Journey of Women

2011 Stars in her own biographical one-person show, Legs 11

First published on . Updated on .

By Sam Cooney   |  

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