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Review: ABBAsolutely Fabulous with Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy at the Arts Centre Melbourne

By Taylor Kendal

It is a rather safe assumption to make, to say that almost everyone in the whole world has heard an ABBA song in one way or another. Perhaps you grew up in the age of ABBA, your parents played records and cassettes throughout your childhood – as mine did, or perhaps more recently thanks to stage and screen representations. Regardless of the how, it seems that the music of ABBA touches people in ways that very few artists can achieve, and can very well change people’s lives. This is arguably truer for none more than Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy. With over 30 years in the entertainment industry, Rhonda Burchmore has cemented herself as Australian theatre royalty, performing in theatre both in Australia and London’s West End, while Lara has gained outstanding recognition for her talent in theatre for over 25 years, in some of theatres greatest and most coveted roles. But a fateful time brought the two together almost 20 years ago when the two met in the auditions for the Original Australian Production of Mamma Mia!, performing for Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, half of the founding members of ABBA. They got the part and it created a friendship that has blossomed ever since.

Accompanied by a four piece band ( Musical Director Jack Earle on Keys, Kieran Rafferty on Drums, Patrick Schmidli on Bass and Gerard Assi on guitar), dressed in blue sequins of course, and no less than thirteen – yes, thirteen disco balls suspended above, the stage is set for these two Dancing Queens to entertain the crowd with ABBAsolutely Fabulous. Dressed in bright lycra catsuits dripping with sequins, Burchmore and Mulcahy greet the audience with an opening number of Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight), complete with synchronized dance moves and an energy that was felt through the whole theatre, with the audience clapping along from the very beginning. It was all glitter, bellbottoms and fringes in what can only be described as deliciously camp in every best way.

Though ABBA’s repertoire is vast and eclectic, the duo managed to narrow it down to twelve songs, considered some of the group’s best and most recognisable, to create the soundscape to their show. With irrefutable hits such as Mamma Mia!, Thank You For The Music, Money Money Money and Ring Ring, just to name a few, the audience is treated to a tapestry of songs, interwoven with stories from the lives of these two ladies of the stage; A lifelong love affair with music and with the band that would act as fate and bring the two of them together, providing a lasting thread in their lives together. There was a particular anecdote about the opening night party following Mamma Mia, where after an undisclosed amount of champagne and cocktails, there were four left standing at three am in the karaoke rooms: Rhonda Burchmore, Lara Mulcahy, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and I pray to the musical theatre gods that that story was true. There is no denying that Burchmore and Mulcahy are meant to be on the stage; their presence and talent is evident, as is their sense of familiarity and ease on stage in front of an audience. It is also clear that the two are as close as they claim to be, having a great chemistry between them as they share small glimpses in their twenty year friendship. However, despite their natural chemistry, there are moments of dialogue between songs where it seemed as though something was lacking, and it took a while to realise that at times it seemed as though the dialogue was a little too staged and rehearsed to be natural, which at times, though few, took away from what would have been a rather organic story about two friends just enjoying themselves.

As spectacular as they are as a duo, both Burchmore and Mulcahy dazzle on their own respectively. Lara Mulcahy is as hilarious as she is talented, with a sharp, quick wit that left the audience in stitches for the entirety of the performance, and brought ABBAsolute joy to every moment she was on stage. Her solo performance of SOS had both the cheeky grin of hers and the gaze of a soul looking for their long lost love while belting her heart out. While Rhonda Burchmore dazzled with a stunning, love scorned rendition of Winner Takes It All, and reminded the theatre just how incredibly soulful and deserving of her talent she truly is.

And, in true honouring fashion, the delightful duo wrapped up the performance with the song that started it all in 1971, Waterloo, followed by an energetic rendition of Dancing Queen that had the entirety of Hamer Hall singing along. Regardless of age or taste in music, it is pretty hard to ignore the urge to sing, dance or even smile when you hear an ABBA song, and Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy are the perfect duo to serve as an entertaining reminder of that fact.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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