Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

Phoebe Panaretos is feeling upbeat and so she should. In her fist major musical she has worked with the great Baz Luhrmann and been nominated for a prestigious Helpmann Award. Looking forward to a two month break Phoebe chatted about life on the stage with Baz Luhrmann at the helm.

Luhrmann first devised Strictly Ballroom with a group of students at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) back in 1984, the inspiring story of a championship ballroom dancer who defies all the rules to follow his heart. Since its humble debut Strictly Ballroom has gone from strength to strength. Released as a much loved Australian film in 1992, and most recently it has debuted on the Sydney stage. Strictly Ballroom The Musical will soon tango its way onto centre stage in Melbourne with the same creative team that produced the fabulous film, Baz Luhrmann as director and co-writer, Catherine Martin as costume designer, choreographer John O’Connell and writer Craig Pearce.

With much invested in the musical Luhrmann took his time to select the leading roles of Scott and Fran. Panaretos first met co-star Thomas Lacey in the waiting room at the first audition where they both quietly read the parts of Scott and Francine. Two months later they were in a room together reading the parts for Luhrmann and his team. Lacey was cast fairly quickly but Panaretos had to fight for the role, it took her eight long months to secure the role of Fran, a gruelling audition process but one she says she learnt a great deal from.

Panaretos is enjoying the success the show has brought her. Since it opened in April she has been performing every day. With the Sydney season due to end in a week she will be taking a well earned break, heading for the bright lights of London’s West End to take in a few shows before preparing for the Melbourne season which opens in January next year. Panaretos says she is looking forward to seeing a revival of Miss Saigon and the show everyone is talking about, The Book of Mormon.

Working with Baz Luhrmann, Panaretos says, has been an exciting adventure. “It’s extraordinary to watch him create magic with his eye for detail and passion for the work.” One of the challenges of the show has been adapting to the changes made since it opened in April. At the beginning of the Sydney season Panaretos had to learn a song in two days and then belt it out on stage without missing a beat. However she says that this is all part of working on a new production. “To be involved in an Australian production, watching it unfold and develop every day continues to be an amazing experience.”

The Melbourne season opens at Her Majesty’s Theatre in January 2015.

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