Lyric Theatre (The Star),
until June 29
Albion Park dancer Ryan Gonzalez remembers watching Strictly Ballroom on the couch with his parents as a young boy, sparking a lifelong passion for dance and Baz Lurhmann films. Today, even after months of gruelling auditions and rehearsals and drills, he still can't quite believe he will soon be stepping out on stage as part of the cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
"I walk into rehearsals every day and still get goosebumps listening to the band and walking on that stage," Ryan said during a break in a hectic rehearsal schedule.
The production has its global premiere on April 12 at Sydney's Lyric Theatre and with Luhrmann himself on board as director for the show, expectations are high.
"I didn't realise how closely he would be working with us, but he is the director of everything, from the cast to the lights to the tiniest movements in the show," Ryan said.
"It is such an incredible process working with Baz, he is such a perfectionist and it's so inspiring."
It is a long way from taking up dance as a four year old, before he had even started school. Adding singing to his repertoire at age eight, Ryan said he "tried other sports, but dancing was the one that really stuck," and danced right through St Joseph's at Albion Park until leaving for Sydney to pursue a full-time dance career at just 16.
"I can't really pinpoint a time when I decided I wanted to do this professionally. It has just been as long as I can remember," Ryan said.
"Mum and dad pushed me to do well. We would watch and research old musicals on TV at home."
Strictly Ballroom, released in 1992, helped launch the careers of Paul Mercurio, Todd McKenney and Sonia Kruger, as well as propelling relative unknown director Baz Luhrmann into the international limelight. Despite the success of the film, Ballroom was originally penned as a stage production by Luhrmann while studying at NIDA, and to the stage it will return with a big-budget theatre remake helmed by Baz himself. Ryan said Luhrmann's early films - Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge - had been favourite films growing up, and when an agent's call came to offer an audition for the ballroom epic, it was a dream come true.
"I kind of freaked out a bit when they called me, because I'm a massive fan of every movie Baz has ever done but I'd never danced ballroom before," Ryan confessed.
"I took a few ballroom lessons before the audition and just had to hope for the best."
With credits in big-name stage musicals including King Kong and Legally Blonde under his belt, as well as a small appearance in another Luhrmann film - The Great Gatsby - Ryan was accustomed to the torturous, drawn-out process that is preparing for a big name production.
Still, weeks of audition workshop have now blended into daily rehearsals and ballroom training from 10am to 10pm.
"Baz is a perfectionist. He knows what he wants, and won't settle until it happens," Ryan said.
"He puts in so much detail, it's so inspiring. It makes it such an incredible process for us to work with. It makes all the time and effort worth it. The audience will walk in and get goosebumps."