Interview – Strictly Ballroom LEADS

Thomas Lacey & Phoebe Panaretos

The audition process for Strictly Ballroom, the Musical has been quite exhaustive. Many months have gone by with numerous auditions, multiple call-outs to agents to try to find the perfect cast members for the latest delivery from the enigmatic Baz Luhrmann and Producer Carmen Pavlovic (Global Creatures).
With a secured creative and production team featuring iconic names such as Kelley Abbey (Associate Director), Catherine Martin (Set & Costume Designer), John ‘Cha Cha’ O’Connell (Choreographer), Craig Pearce (Co-Writer) and of course Baz Luhrmann (Director & Co-Writer), STRICTLY BALLROOM is already brimming with the most exciting match of minds to bring it to life.
Today, finally Phoebe Panaretos was announced as the second lead to play ‘Fran’ alongside Thomas Lacey as ‘Scott Hastings’ who was announced three weeks ago.
We had a quick chat to Phoebe and Thomas today at the Global Creatures office in Surry Hills to get a bit of insight for our readers. Here’s what they had to say …

Phoebe, what is your background?
“I grew up in Sydney and when I was 18 I graduated high school (Newtown Performing Arts) and was accepted into the Victorian College of Arts, Bachelor of Music Theatre course. We were actually the inaugural year and we lost funding in our first year so we were meant to be taught out for the three years. We did all the protests like …  ‘Save VCA campaigns’…. all that sort of thing! It was like living in a real-life musical of ‘Hair’ … it was such an exciting time, but we saved the VCA so now it’s up and running and the course is being offered annually. In the end, our class was really special and we got all these amazing benefits of being the first class. Melbourne is definitely the place to be to study Music Theatre – you meet so many amazing teachers – I loved it
Do you base yourself in Melbourne now?
“I finished the VCA course when I had just turned 21 and I decided to stay in Melbourne. I was on the audition circuit for about a year and started to audition for Strictly Ballroom and it seemed to take on a life of its own!
It’s wonderful for you to have virtually come straight out of your training and into an amazing role like this!
“It was definitely a year of hard auditions! I think to a lot of music theatre people, that’s not long, but that first year out is really hard for a lot of graduates … just getting used to and finding your feet in the industry, seeing what the competition is like … it really took its toll on me for a while!
Did you always think that you would move into musical theatre?
“I always knew … I mean I started dancing – I was a Brent Street kid and did show groups and everything … but as soon as the teachers got me into singing I thought to myself ‘this is what I’m meant to be doing’ and I always had little singing solos in the routines from then on.  I was in Cameron Macintosh’s OLIVER when I was eleven and that’s when I fell in love with it (Music Theatre)!  I became the biggest nerd … I watched all the shows….. I could tell you everything!
And you also did very well with your acting?
“I went and saw Robin Nevin in ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ which was a very serious one woman play and, here I was, this 17 year old girl and I was so inspired! I thought ‘I’m going to do that for my HSC’ and it was like this 40-year-old woman talking about her husband dying!  I don’t know how I did it but I topped the state and went to perform it at the Seymour Centre. It was a really cool thing I did for myself.”
So Thomas, you are a Melbourne boy – what is your background?
“I have been dancing since I was two years old, doing ballet, tap and jazz. I did my first professional theatre gig when I was seven. I was really lucky, I just went from show to show to show, and then at the age of 10 years I started doing ballroom dancing, and then I moved into TV and back into music theatre.”
Did you ever think you would be on such an iconic production as this?
“When I heard the auditions were coming around for the show, I thought ‘Oh, I’d be perfect for it … I do this, this and this … i tick all the boxes’, but no, I never dreamed that I would actually get the gig!
Are you excited to be working with Baz?
(BOTH in chorus) “Extremely excited!”
What is your impression of Baz so far in terms of your working relationship?
(Thomas) “Throughout the audition process he’s been in all the time and we just did a workshop with him for a couple of weeks. He’s pretty ‘hands on’ and he’s such a personable character … wants to know about you, wants to know how you’re feeling, things like that. In terms of the acting side of things, he’s so amazing.”
(Phoebe) “He just knows what to bring out in you and brings out the best in everyone he’s working with – he just has an amazing vision! We worked on a scene for like 10 minutes in the workshop and it was just amazing … it was beautiful by the end of it!
Have you worked with ‘Cha Cha’ (John O’Connell) as yet?
(Phoebe) “Yes, it’s all in very early stages at this point – quite explorative! I think it’s amazing that now we’ve been cast we get to have some input as well which is great!”
Kelley Abbey is your associate director as well?
(Phoebe) “She has been an idol of mine growing up – I’m so excited to be working with Kelley!”
How do expect the Australian public will receive ‘Strictly Ballroom, the Musical’?
(Thomas) “Well being the all singing, all dancing, all acting kind of show, I think it will be great – there is such a cult following for the film that the way it’s going to be presented it will have a lot of similarity to the movie, but adding all the amazing songs throughout will just trigger another set of fans I feel.”
(Phoebe) “Hopefully it will gain a new generation of fans and reinvigorate something that was so huge for Australia.”
Do you think the stage show will be as popular as the film?
(Phoebe) “Just from what we’ve touched on in the workshop and rehearsals with Baz, we’ve realised that this is going to be so so cool! Audiences will be just so excited to see it!
We are excited to do it!!!”
Have you got any advice to our readers on how to get to where you find yourself right now?
(Thomas) “You have to be hungry in this industry, to really really want it, to work hard!
Something else I’ve only just started to realise as well s a lot of the time they ARE looking for a specific look … so you may be able to tick all the right boxes and do all the right stuff but a specific look is what they want.

(Phoebe) “I was at the point this time last year that I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong! I found it really hard to keep going back to audition after audition. I would just say – never give up!
Things don’t come easily to people that don’t put in the hard work!
Even in times when you’ve been cut and you think ‘I’ve been cut for the 10th time!!’ I’ve been rejected for the billionth time …’ I would not be where I am now if I thought that way or kept on that path. It fuelled me even further to go to more dance classes; more singing teachers … you can never stop learning. That would be my advice – you can never stop learning – even through all the auditions, I mean I have learnt SO MUCH!
If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

For all ticketing details, see our article here


Role Actor

Scott Hastings Thomas Lacey

Fran Phoebe Panaretos

Shirley Hastings Heather Mitchell

Doug Hastings Drew Forsythe

JJ Silvers Mark Owen-Taylor

Barry Fife Robert Grubb

Les Kendall Bob Baines

Rico Fernando Mira

Ya Ya Natalie Gamsu

Liz Holt Sophia Katos

Wayne Burns Andrew Cook

Vanessa Cronin Ash Bee

Ken Railings Rohan Browne

Charm Leachman Angela Kennedy

Pam Short Angie Stapleton

Tina Sparkle Nadia Coote

Clarry Welch Lachlan Martin

Terry Best Tyler Coppin

Merv Damien Bermingham

Dance Ensemble

Kaylah Attard

Cristina D’Agostino

Keanu Gonzalez

Ryan Gonzalez

Melanie Hawkins

Loren Hunter

Nathan Pinnell

Mike Snell

Swings Leigh Archer

Steven Grace (Dance Captain)


Baz Luhrmann Director & Co-Writer

Catherine Martin Set & Costume Designer

John O’Connell Choreographer

Craig Pearce Co-Writer

Hugh Vanstone Lighting Designer

Peter Grubb Sound Designer

Max Lambert Musical Supervisor

Anton Monsted Music Producer

Elliott Wheeler Orchestrator, Arranger and New Compositions