Meet Jemma Rix, the talented singer-actor who grew up in Avoca Beach and is now starring as Elsa in the Broadway musical spectacular, Frozen.
On the beautiful Central Coast, we can claim many talented young people and the hot property right now is Avoca Beach’s own Jemma Rix. Currently starring as Elsa in the musical Frozen, Jemma took time away from her busy schedule to talk to Central Coast Life & Style.
Performing eight shows a week, including two matinée days, this talented actress is taking Sydney by storm.
Warm, with an engagingly bubbly personality, Jemma recalls her early life growing up on the Central Coast.
“I grew up on Avoca Beach with my parents and my younger brother, Riley, all of whom still live on the Central Coast, although my parents moved to Wamberal a few years ago. And since starting dance lessons at the age of about four, I had the performing bug.
“We threw ourselves into the dancing; I did Highland Dancing for a while and performed in all the dance competitions.”
Kids who grow up by the beach tend to follow a tried-and-true path of Nippers, the training ground for young lifesavers, to surfing and lots of beach time.
“But I’m a redhead,” Jemma says with a laugh, “so I had to be more careful than most about avoiding sunburn. Of course, we still had an outdoors life, going waterskiing and camping with friends, which was great fun, but I was never going to follow the traditional Central Coast lifestyle.”
School was Avoca Beach Primary, where Jemma took every opportunity to sing. Once at Terrigal High, Jemma had many more opportunities to flex her musical muscle.
“I chose Terrigal High over Kincumber High because Terrigal offered more performance-related activities. Every year, we’d enter the Australian Rock Eisteddfod Challenge plus I got to sing at other events and shows.
“The first time I performed in front of a large audience (I think) was at a school assembly when I was in Year 7. What I remember most about that was how supportive everyone was, from the other students to the school staff.”
Stardom didn’t arrive quickly. Jemma’s aunt, a beauty therapist, inspired Jemma to do a beauty therapy apprenticeship at TAFE, an occupation she loved. However, the burning desire to perform hadn’t been quelled by roles with the Gosford Musical Society or singing in a band and in local restaurants. At the end of her four-year apprenticeship, at the tender age of 20, she was off to Melbourne (sharing the long drive with her father) to seek her performing fortune.
Sometimes our lives are affected by just being in the right place at the right time.
“I hadn’t really thought about musical theatre as a career opportunity because I didn’t think I had the right kind of voice. Then along came Idina Menzel and I thought, ‘I could do that!’”
As Jemma relates, “While I had a job in a cafe, I auditioned for everything, sang where I could and took dance lessons. Not long after I arrived in Melbourne, I landed a role in The Monster Rock and Roll Show at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan.”
But wasn’t it hard living away for a year?
“Living in Japan was such an amazing experience. I’d been to Europe when I was 18 but had never lived outside Australia. There I was, surrounded by this incredible group of talented young performers from all over the world. It was such a melting pot of talent, we all supported each other and we actually got paid for it.
“The Japanese really took care of all the performers. We all got a phone, and a bicycle, our own apartment – it was pretty wild for a young woman from Avoca Beach.”
Roll on one year and Jemma was back in Melbourne, where her experience in Japan performing in a cut-down version of Wicked saw her accepted as the standby for the Elphaba role.
“Because I’d already proved I could sing ‘Defying Gravity’, which is notoriously difficult, I got to be in the show and learn from Amanda Harrison, a seasoned musical theatre professional. Because I was the standby talent, I could use my time to focus, listen to the director’s calls, watch and absorb everything. It was such a fantastic training ground where I could learn on the job, which is more my style anyway.
“I just wanted to be in the show, even if I were only part of the ensemble, so I really landed on my feet.”
As history shows, Jemma went on to share the role, singing at four performances a week and getting top billing.
And what does Jemma have to say about Frozen?
“The role is fantastic and I love it but I really want people to understand how much more the musical is compared with the film. The score is longer plus I get another belter of a number in ‘Monster’.”
When asked if she experienced the energy of an audience, Jemma replies, “Oh, yes! Especially when we did our first shows of the season. The audiences were so starved of entertainment, they were so happy to be in the theatre and we could feel them willing us to do our best. That energy – we feed off it.”
Clearly, even without the audience factor, this is a stupendous production.
Comments Jemma, “It’s a Broadway musical and it couldn’t be more obvious, with lavish sets and costumes (and my costume transformation is extraordinary). The characters have more depth and because we’re real people, not animations, audiences can feel the emotion in this powerful story of sisters overcoming adversity to be fully themselves.”
In a post-2020 world, don’t we all need some magic?