Sunday, October 25, 2015

BROADWAY BABY - Rhonda Burchmore at Teatro Vivaldi's

Musical Director:
 Michael Pensini

Teatro Vivaldi – Canberra

  24th October 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

It’s important in intimate cabaret to have a few runs on the board and a good backstory. Rhonda Burchmore has both in spades. She’s done it all. One of Australia’s most enduring entertainers, she’s shared the boards with famous co-stars including David Atkins, Eddie Bracken, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller and Anthony Newley.

She’s rubbed shoulders with Prime Ministers and Presidents including a memorable encounter with Bill Clinton. She’s racked up countless appearances on television shows, and in a succession of high profile cabarets.  Burchmore has the songs and the stories, and was happy to share them  with those fortunate to be in her audience  for her  latest cabaret show “Broadway Baby” which she premiered in Canberra’s little cabaret  jewel-box , Teatro Vivaldi, between a season of “Into the Woods” in Brisbane, and commencing rehearsals for “Jerry’s Girls” in Melbourne.

Living up to her nickname , “The Glamazon from Down Under”, Burchmore cut a striking figure as she took the stage at Vivaldi’s, her tall slim frame clad, head to toe, in shiny black sequins, her skirt slit to the thigh to reveal the famous legs, and a mane of flaming red hair framing her face.

Her opening song “Broadway Baby” set the tone for the night and within minutes, she had the audience eating out of her hand, quickly seduced by her friendly, open manner and refusal to take herself too seriously.  As a special compliment to her audience, always the true professional, Burchmore treated them to another equally glamorous outfit for the second half of her program.

Although “Broadway Baby” has some references to Burchmore’s own career, it’s not especially autobiographical, focussing more on her love of the Broadway musical.  There are songs from shows in which she has appeared, including “Every Day a Different Tune” from “Sugar Babies” and “Dancing Queen” from “Mamma Mia”,  but  also  songs from shows in which she has not performed such as   “Kiss Me Kate” , “Chicago”, and “Sweet Charity”. 

Whether singing Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” perched gracefully on the grand piano, strutting the stage Fosse-style for Kander and Ebb’s “All That Jazz”, manipulating a chair suggestively for Razaf and Hill’s “If I Can’t Sell It”, or simply standing centre stage for a spell-binding version of Jerry Herman’s “I Am What I Am”, the warmth, style and panache which have kept Burchmore at the top of her game are always evident.

So are her considerable skills as an engaging raconteur as she regales her audience with a succession of often outrageous back stage stories which she includes as preludes to many of the songs. Thus her revelation that   Ann Miller had presented her with a pair of her tap shoes while they were working together in “Sugar Babies” provided the perfect segue into a sparkling rendition of “Too Darn Hot”, which Miller had famously performed in the movie, “Kiss Me Kate”. 

There are many such moments scattered throughout the show, but perhaps the most unexpected and memorable inclusion, and the one which most effectively showcased Burchmore’s artistry, was a superbly sung interweaving of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” with Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You”, impeccably accompanied by Michael Penseni.

Apart from being an entertaining evening of stylishly performed cabaret, “Broadway Baby” provides an unmissable opportunity to spend an intimate, often revealing, evening with   one of the country’s most admired and accomplished performers. If it comes your way, don’t miss the opportunity to experience it for yourself.  

                         This review also appears in "Australian Arts Review"

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