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The Stars of Strictly Ballroom The Musical

By Kristy Johnson of Dance Informa.

As one of the most eagerly awaited musical theatre events for 2014, it comes as no surprise that there was hype surrounding who would be cast in the pivotal roles of Scott and Fran for Strictly Ballroom: The Musical. Well, it has been announced that after months of intense auditions and consideration, the two roles have been given to 20-year-old Thomas Lacey and 23-year-old Phoebe Panaretos.

Directed and produced by the same team who brought audiences the 1992 film version, including Baz Luhrmann, set and costume designer Catherine Martin and choreographer John “Cha Cha” O’Connell, Strictly Ballroom: The Musical tells the inspiring story of a championship ballroom dancer who defies all the rules to follow his heart.

Here, Dance Informa caught up with the two newly-announced performers at Baz Luhrmann’s Sydney home to chat about the audition process, audience expectations and what it was like meeting Baz.

Congratulations on being cast! You must be thrilled!

Tom
Thanks! Yes, I’m stoked!

How long had you known?

Tom
I had known for quite a while, but it was only announced two or three weeks ago. I had to keep it a secret.

Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos

Thomas Lacey dances with Phoebe Panaretos. Photo by Baz Luhrmann, courtesy of ‘Strictly Ballroom: The Musical.’

How did your family and friends react?

Tom
They were crazy. Really crazy! Some of my friends are still messaging me saying, ‘Oh, I saw you on the show Sunrise!’ It’s like, oh my goodness [Laughs.]

I’m assuming you have watched the movie a thousand times already?

Phoebe
A few [Laughs.]

As it is such an iconic story, do you find any pressure to live up to audience expectations?

Tom
Yeah, of course.

Phoebe
Definitely.

Tom
People always talk about the cult following of the show so it’s a bit daunting thinking about that. Going into opening night thinking, how are they going to receive it? But I think we’ve just got to go into it open minded and just run with it really.

Phoebe
It’s daunting, but it’s exciting.

What do you love most about the story?

Phoebe
For me as a little girl, I saw the romance of the story and the romance of the film. The girl that never could end up transforming into this beautiful dancer and falls in love. As a little girl, you love that. Everyone loves a good transformation.

Do you think you can relate to Fran?

Phoebe
Yeah, definitely. I think all teenage girls go through that awkward stage. I mean, I had horrible buckteeth, had braces and expanders. I guess all girls go through that; puberty and discovering boys for the first time. I can definitely relate to that sort of experience and why Fran was a bit of a misfit or outcast.

For you Tom, the character Scott defies all odds to follow his heart. Can you relate to that in any way?

Tom
Yeah. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been told I can’t do something, it’s more of I’d rather do something differently sometimes. [Laughs.] I used to play piano and I used to always jazz it up because I hated playing classical. So, it’s things like that, which is completely different, but I can kind of relate to that. Yeah, there are a few little bits in the back of my mind.

Are you conscious of staying true to the film? Or are you planning on giving a different take to the characters?

Tom
I think it needs [a new take]. Especially because we are singing and dancing a lot, so there will be a different journey to it all. With brand new songs, of course we have to have a different journey to it. The main essences of the journey that they go through will be the same. We haven’t even got a script yet, so we’re still in the dark.

When do rehearsals begin?

Tom
About mid-January. We’re both here, sitting and waiting to start [Laughs.]

Can you tell us what the audition process was like?

Tom
Very long [Laughs.] Probably April this year, so it’s been a while.

Phoebe
I found it challenging. I feel like for me, Baz Luhrmann brought out things I didn’t even know I could do. I grew so much in that time. And you can train and train and train for years, and I went to drama school and studied music theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, and went to a performing arts high school, but I learnt so much over the course of this year that I could have spent a lifetime trying to learn and grow through that process.

Tom
People say, ‘Why does it take so long?’ But I really understand why. We’ve grown so much just from being in the room with Baz.

I can imagine you must have been a bit star-struck at first.

Tom
Yeah. [Laughs.] I remember the first time I was at the audition and I heard his voice coming down the passageway. There was a flock of people behind him and I was like, ‘Oh my! That’s him!’ And he goes, ‘Hi, Tom!’ And I was like, ‘[Makes sound].’ [Laughs.]

It seems like everything Baz touches in his career turns to gold!

Phoebe
I say this to people all the time when they ask me about Baz. I was so nervous to meet him at first. I walked in the room knowing he would come in, and I was so nervous. He took 10 minutes, if that, to make you feel comfortable, when he knew your name and just brought the best out of everyone in the room. I think that’s a testimony to why he’s so successful.

Tom
I’d say he’s very personable.

Phoebe
Definitely.

How do you both keep on top of being a ‘triple-threat’ in the industry?

Phoebe
At the moment, I’m trying to sing everyday… Before the audition, I’d have my singing lesson every week, and do a few brush up sessions myself at home. But now it’s about getting it done everyday.

Would you say you’re more of a singer than a dancer?

Phoebe
Yeah. If I could choose what to do in an audition, then I would choose to sing first. But I mean, dance is sort of something that I’ve always done and I consider myself a strong dancer, but not the best technical dancer. I think I’m good at style and picking up different things like that. But singing for me I think is the part of this show that is going to be very important.

Tom
Yes, definitely more of a dancer. I’ve been singing all my life and then I had a break from around 15 to 18 years and then got back into it. I’ve been dancing since I was two, so you’d kind of expect me to be good. [Laughs.] We do flamenco classes three times a week and I have my singing lesson every week, and then the workshop period starts.

Do you know if there will be any cameos, from say Sonia Kruger or Paul Mercurio?

Phoebe
I don’t think so. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so.

Tom
Who knows?

Strictly Ballroom The Musical dances its way onto the stage in Sydney, from 25 March 2014. For bookings, visit ticketmaster.com.au or call 1300 795 267. For more information on the show, visit www.strictlyballroomthemusical.com

Photo (top): Thomas Lacey will play the lead role of Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom: The Musical. Photo by Baz Luhrmann, courtesy of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical.

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