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Sydney Morning Herald

Strictly Ballroom: Phoebe is dancing with the stars for good reason - she is about to be one

Sydney Morning Herald

GARRY MADDOX December 03, 2013

Strictly Ballroom: Phoebe is dancing with the stars for good reason - she is about to be one - Panaretos Phoebe vd-ballroom1-408x264

The two young stars of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Clicked: Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos. Photo: Peter Rae

As an unknown who was ''a complete theatre nerd'' at high school, Phoebe Panaretos auditioned for Strictly Ballroom The Musical hoping for a minor role in the ensemble.

When everyone else paired up to learn a dance routine, she had to practise by herself.

But the former student at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, who topped the state in drama studies in 2008, impressed director Baz Luhrmann enough to be called back for another audition.
Then another. And another.

Fittingly given that awkward start, the 23-year-old has now won the coveted role of the wallflower Fran in the stage version of Luhrmann's hit film.

She will play opposite Thomas Lacey, best known for the TV series Dance Academy, as the rebellious dancer Scott.

Luhrmann credits Panaretos, who has a degree in musical theatre from the Victorian College of the Arts, for weathering many tests during the gruelling auditions.

''The role of Fran requires an actor to transform from within, expressing that transformation in terms of character, voice and dance,'' he said.
Panaretos, whose father ran a disco dancing school in the 1970s, is thrilled to be cast.

''I've basically been auditioning since April this year, so it was a long process,'' she said. ''There were things I had to prove and I had to fight for. It's all been worth it in the end but it was a very stressful time for a while.''

By chance, Panaretos sat next to Lacey, then a stranger, at an early audition.

''We started chatting then just randomly we said, 'Do you want to read the scene together - the Scott and Fran scene?' So we had a read … Every audition since, we'd look for each other in the room and be excited to see the other person there.''

While Fran has a Spanish background in the film, Coogee-raised Panaretos has a Greek-Australian family, which should help ticket sales when the show opens in April. ''Being Greek, they come in droves to every performance,'' Panaretos said.

The cast also includes Heather Mitchell, Drew Forsythe, Robert Grubb, Bob Baines and Mark Owen-Taylor.

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