The Star Observer was planning on speaking to Rhonda Burchmore about her stunning new show, Cry Me A River: The World of Julie London, but Burchmore had other things on her mind – namely, her online impersonator.
Aspiring Melbourne comedian Thomas Jaspers is garnering something of an online following by frocking up on YouTube and delivering ribald bon mots as Burchmore under the Twitter handle ‘Rhonda [email protected]’.
“This Twitter imposter is really cheeky. People ask me, ‘What are you doing to get rid of him?’ but I figure, If I can’t beat him I may as well join him, so I’m on Twitter now and we follow each other. It’s a mutual love affair between the two Rhondas,” Burchmore said.
The real Rhonda will tread the boards at the Comedy Theatre come August in a musical tribute to the life and career of London, the 1950s jazz diva famed for her smoky, sensual singing voice.
It marks a change in style for a performer whose name is synonymous with a certain brand of Australian musical theatre campery.
“She’s one of those cool jazz voices I’ve always loved, but I found no-one had really told her story. I have to credit David Campbell – he was the artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret
Festival at the time and he said to me, ‘How about we present Rhonda in a new light?’” she explained.
“I thought this show was really the way to go. It’s not the leggy showgirl musical theatre Rhonda, it’s a more sultry, smooth style of singing and performing that Julie was known for.”
Written by Burchmore and Gary Young and based on an original treatment by Frank Howson, the show debuted to great acclaim at Cabaret Festival before showing in Brisbane and has been developed into a two-act show complete with big band and set. Burchmore was keen to point out one thing, though: she wouldn’t be attempting to impersonate the late singer.
“You get into really tricky waters when you try to impersonate. I knew I never would or could be able to, so instead I tell her story and stay very true to the music and the spirit of the times.”
While Burchmore acknowledged that London’s life wasn’t as scandalous as that of some of the other ‘50s divas – Judy, Marilyn et al – she said she hoped audiences would come away with a greater understanding of the artist and the “real family gal behind the glamorous image.”
“She’s on so many of those cool Sunday afternoon jazz compilation albums, and I think a lot more people would recognise the voice rather than the face or even the name.”
Given that Burchmore released her autobiography Legs 11 in 2010, it’s interesting she’s doing a show about someone else’s life rather than her own.
“It’s funny you should say, because I’ve been workshopping a stage version of the book, telling my life story. There’s a lot of material there, so it’d be fantastic to bring it into the major cities with a big band, dancers and special guests. I’d like to do it before I get too old and have to call it Legless!”
INFO: Cry Me a River: The World of Julie London, Comedy Theatre, August 16-19. Tickets through Ticketmaster.