Two Greek Actresses Leading in Luhrmann’s Musical “Strictly Ballroom” in Australia – Phoebe Panaretos and Sophia Katos


Phoebe Panaretos


Phoebe grew up in Sydney and went to Newtown School of Performing Arts and graduated topping the State in drama. She moved to Melbourne and was an inaugural 2011 Musical Theatre graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts where she awarded the Encouragement Award from the Friends of the VCA. In her final year she played the role of Anita in West Side Story Directed by Martin Croft.

Phoebe originally made her professional debut in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Oliver when she was 11 years old playing the role of Rose. Other credits include touring Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide with the Simpsons Tour and singing at the Premier’s Concert in Sydney at the Entertainment Centre.

Since graduating Phoebe was cast in a role in the Television series Mr and Mrs Murder. In 2012 she toured to both Singapore and Hong Kong with Smile Live Entertainment production of Thomas And The Hidden Treasure. Earlier this year Phoebe was very excited to be part of The Production Company’s 2013 season of Singing in the Rain.

Phoebe would like to thank her family, teachers and Ian White Management for their support and guidance in getting her to this wonderful opportunity to play Fran – one of the most iconic film roles in Australian Films. Phoebe is extremely excited and honoured to be playing Fran and working with the amazing Baz Luhrmann.

With the full cast of the highly anticipated Global Creatures next major production Strictly Ballroom the musical finally announced, Aussie Theatre’s David Allen recently caught up with the shows two young stars Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos to talk about playing two iconic characters, growing up with the movie and being directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos

Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos

Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos may have just been cast in one of the biggest music theatre ventures in Australian history, but there’s no evidence of star ego here. Their enthusiasm and excitement is palpable as we talk. They’re both absolutely psyched to be standing where they are – the stars of a new Baz Luhrmann stage musical – and yet even after the intensive rehearsals and auditions, there’s still a sense of wonderment. I did it? I got the part? Whoa!

“I’m still processing it,” says Thomas Lacey as we talk in Sydney one balmy afternoon. “It’s so weird to think about it after everything that has happened. We’re lucky though to be working with Baz – he’s just very personable and disarming. It’s really helped all through auditions. You just knew he wanted to know you more and to work with you and bring out your best.”

Phoebe Panaretos is the actress to play the coveted role of Fran in the new Strictly Ballroom stage adaptation, and though she is clearly a dancer’s dancer, there is something friendly and effortless about her that makes her seem like a natural fit for the role. Unlike Luhrmann’s last leading lady, Daisy Buchanan in his epic screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, there is no frivolity of pretension about Phoebe or Fran – this is a young actress ready to get to work. Thomas Lacey, her co-star and leading man in the role of Scott Hastings, has a very similar vibe. Talking to them is like chatting with a pair of mates, they’re so comfortable together.

“We met one day early on during auditions,” said Phoebe as we go on.

“We both managed to arrive an hour early one day and so we sat down next to each other and got chatting. Then around April in 2013 we did a read through together and at the time we laughed and said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we ended up the leads together’. And now here we are!”

They both laugh and we move on to the million dollar question. Though there are many famous and successful Australian directors working in the mainstream entertainment industry, love him or hate him, no one has inspired the same level of interest and discussion as Baz Luhrmann. Though most notable for his film work, it’s not that long ago that his production of La Boheme wowed audiences on Broadway. What is it like then working with one of Australia’s most sought after creative minds?

“I was nervous meeting him the first time,” Phoebe confesses.

“There’s something to be said for casting unestablished talent, for taking that risk, and we can only thank Baz for making it possible”

“I was so excited just even being there, and then he walked in and I think it took him about ten minutes to make everyone there completely comfortable. He just knows how to get you to relax and draw your best work out of you.”

“The best part of it,” adds Thomas, “is that you’re in the room with Baz. You’re not working with ‘Baz Luhrmann’. He’s easy and fun to work with. Just a lot of fun, there’s lots of jokes – he really does just get how to put you at your ease while you work with him.”

Strictly Ballroom is, of course, one of the most iconic Australian movies ever made. A resounding smash hit when it was first released in 1992 starring Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice, it has since gone on to be a cult favourite amongst Australian audiences and around the world. The announcement of the stage adaptation presented by Global Creatures and directed again by Baz Luhrmann has gone on to generate a great deal of excitement.

“I first saw the movie when I was fifteen,” Thomas laughs, “I wasn’t born even I think when the movie was released. I watched it a lot though this year. It’s a movie that it’s really easy to obsess over actually.”

“I watched it taped on a VHS off the TV with my grandma,” adds Phoebe, “it was a while ago now.”

Thomas laughs as he admits, “I actually thought when my agent first sent me the casting brief last year that I was auditioning for a movie! I read through it quickly and thought: ‘Baz Luhrmann’ – ok it must be a movie. I was talking to my sister about it later on and she absolutely tore into me about it and told me how important this was and she told me all about the story and the character and she’s really been my go-to person about it since.”

About the iconic role of Fran, Phoebe Panaretos is bright and optimistic.

“I knew when I first read the casting brief that this is a part I could play. I’m very new to music theatre and I entered into the audition process with no expectations. I think that actually helped because it meant from the beginning I could see myself as a ‘Fran’ in many ways. I was off exploring a new part of myself just like she does in the show.”

“It really is great that such young performers have been cast,” adds Thomas.

“Casting directors so often go for the same people – the people they know and have worked with before. We’re both complete unknowns and at the end of this big international search for our characters… the fact that Baz and Global Creatures have taken such a bold decision to cast us, it’s just so humbling.”

“We can only hope,” says Phoebe, “that this can pave the way for other producers casting the big shows to do the same. There’s something to be said for casting unestablished talent, for taking that risk, and we can only thank Baz for making it possible.”

I ask what the two young leads are both looking forward to the most about the show. Their answer tumbles out almost simultaneously as they both laugh and shout out: “Staring rehearsals!”

“I have to admit though,” says Thomas, “that I’m looking forward to doing the big slide in the final dance number. I can’t wait to do that on stage – it’s just going to be epic and I can’t wait to see what we do with that.”

“Phoebe and I got to workshop the Milk Bar scene from the show” – aficionados of the movie: start your engines! Others: start your DVD players! Seriously, you need to see this movie – “and we worked together for about twenty minutes each time. It was such a full on acting journey. Each time we ran it, it ended up being completely different, and Baz just knows exactly what to say and just what questions to ask to open your mind to the scene and the characters. I think Phoebe and I are going to be a more intimate Scott and Fran on stage. I’m really looking forward to discovering these characters and growing in rehearsals, and what a show to be able to do that in!”

Strictly Ballroom the musical will commence previews at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre on Tuesday, March 25.







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