Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy tell the story of their lives growing up as obsessed ABBA fans in the ’70s- perfect timing, as it’s 40 years ago since ABBA came down under for their major tour! Big hair, lycra jumpsuits and the smash hits from ABBA make this show something truly special. It’s funny, heart-warming, and a true blast from the past …
Hi Rhonda. Forty years ago, ABBA toured Australia. Can you remember that time, and what you were doing?
I didn’t ever get to that concert, and I was absolutely devastated. My father had told me there was no future in show business – I needd a “real job” – so I was studying to be a school teacher in Armidale at the University of New England.
So (a) – I couldn’t afford to get to that concert and (b) I was stuck studying!
How did ABBA-solutely Fabulous develop? The 40th anniversary was obviously an incentive to create the show?
Lara Mulcahy and I were in the original Mamma Mia, many moons ago – in 2001. It was a big deal, because we actually got the show here in Australia before it went to Broadway. There have been a million productions of it and obviously the film since then, but we had to audition for Benny and Bjorn from ABBA, which was such a big thing – auditioning for two of the people who actually wrote the songs! So, we did that show for two years, and it was a smash hit.
Lara and I were cast as best friends in the musical, and in real life we were besties – and we have remained besties – which is just beautiful! She’s one of my dearest friends. In the meantime, I’ve done shows here and abroad, while Lara was involved with a zillion other projects too, like Les Misérables.
Last November, over a couple of drinks, we thought about what a great time we’d had back then in Mamma Mia. We love the music – we’re both obsessed ABBA fans – and I said, it’s perfect timing, 40 years since ABBA came down under; why don’t we pick a different story?
So, we chose our own story – the story of two obsessed ABBA fans growing up in Australia, who didn’t get to that concert; Lara grew up in Perth, and I grew up in Sydney. We wrote the story in two days! It’s about growing up in Australia in the ‘70s and all the things that went with that. And this was the birth of ABBA-solutely Fabulous!
In the show – hence the title – there’s certainly a large dose of Patsy and Eddie from Absolutely Fabulous … I’m far more Patsy to her Eddie! We’re completely opposite, but the chemistry is just amazing between the two of us.
The costumes in the show are out of this world. What does it feel like to wear them?
(Laughs.) Lara and I are a certain age – we’re not Beyoncé or J-Lo, and we’re at completely opposite physical sides of the spectrum; Lara is short and rounded and I’m tall and … ummm … whatever! It is like a “girl power” thing – life can be incredibly unforgiving, but we just get out there and do our stuff and belt out these songs. It’s a very strong message – it’s a body image thing.
You know, there are many ABBA tribute shows, and we’re certainly not a tribute show – we don’t try to be Frida and Anna; we’re Rhonda and Lara, who enjoy the music of ABBA, and we tell our story … Which just happens to fit in with around 22 ABBA classics.
What are a couple of your favourite ABBA songs?
We do quite a few duets, but one of my favourite numbers is the ballad The Winner Takes it All, which I get to do. It’s very different to a lot of the “poppy” kind of ABBA songs. In terms of songs that just make the audience go wild and for us to have a ball on stage, I can’t go past Dancing Queen and Waterloo. You can’t really top those numbers – and of course, Waterloo is what started the whole group off at Eurovision!
We have a young boy band with us who are just getting into the swing of ABBA; they certainly weren’t born when ABBA was around – their average age is 22. I’m sure half of them are still on their P plates – it’s hysterical!
What are some of your favourite things from the ‘70s that have found their way into the show?
In the show we talk about whether we’re Frida or Anna, and we sing in front of the mirror with hairbrushes …
In those times, Countdown was an absolute MUST – you’d sit in front of the TV on Sunday nights and watch Molly Meldrum – even when Fernando remained in the charts for 14 weeks!
We collected all the memorabilia – the socks, the cushions, and we still have some of that stuff – including the original 45 records. We talk about that on stage. Oh … and the big hair, the platform boots – we have authentic platform boots.
It was a really good time; I have so many fond memories of the ‘70s, with the music and the fashion.
Final say …
The main thing about the show is it’s not a tribute – it’s about friendship, girl power … When we do the songs, they slot into our story perfectly. Lara and I were both dancing school kids, so an obvious segue is Thank You for the Music.
Ring Ring – we talk about having boyfriends in the ‘70s, and we lament that back in those days we used to have handwritten letters and phone calls, instead of everything being on Facebook and Twitter. The dating situation was very different back then, and people often used to pick up the phone!
It’s a hilarious show – Lara and I are like Arnie and Danny De Vito out there. I think the audience walks away with the feeling of what it’s like to have that sense of love for your bestie, and to enjoy the good times singing and dancing along to all of the old songs.
Photo courtesy of John McRae.