Arts & Entertainment

Fangirls – REVIEW

FANGIRLS cast. Photo-Dayna Ransley

With the glut of so-called duke-box musicals doing the rounds, it’s reaffirming to have a comparative masterpiece like Fangirls prove that a musical can’t simply be cobbled together from a random bunch of popular songs. Yve Blake’s fresh and original show was an unexpected sensation when it debuted at Belvoir. It now returns on a bigger stage with whiz-bang production, an updated cast and an enthusiastic new audience of converts.

Blake Appelqvist as Harry in Fangirls. Photo: Dayna Ransley

The story behind Blake’s impetus to write Fangirls was the subject of a TED talk she gave in 2019, the same year the musical premiered and before she knew it would be so massively successful. Blake explained that, after hearing her niece declare with absolute conviction that she was going to marry Harry Styles from phenomenally popular boy band, One Direction, Blake became fascinated with the whole concept of fandom, obsession and the unbridled aspirations of youth. 

SaltyPringl (Jesse Dutlow) and Edna (Manali Datar). Photo: Dayna Ransley

Four years of studiously observing the language and culture of idol-worshipping young teens culminated in a musical that is funny, empathetic, smart, energetic, unique and thoroughly entertaining. 

Edna (Manali Datar), Jules (Milo Hartill) and Brianna (Tonieka Del Rosario) are 14-year-old besties whose worlds currently revolve around boy band sensation, True Connection, and especially lead singer, Harry (Blake Appelqvist). They share their Harry-centric hopes and dreams on an online chat group. Edna has a special online friend, SaltyPringl (Jesse Dutlow) with whom she exchanges Harry-themed fan fiction, but the lines between fiction and reality soon become diabolically blurred. 

Edna (Manali Datar), Brianna (Tonieka Del Rosario) and Jules (Milo Hartill). Photo: Dayna Ransley

Edna’s mother, Caroline (Danielle Barnes) is single, works long hours, and is ideologically disconnected from Edna, though she tries her best to find some common ground. 

For such a young cast, there is a lot of professional maturity on stage: the comedy is delivered with precision timing and perfect nuance; the voices of the leads are extraordinary and there are lots of operatic flourishes to show them off. The “apology” contest is a stand-out moment.  

Mel O’Brien plays roaming character, Lily, who occasionally flits in and out of scenes brandishing a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon. Her voice is as big and brash as her personality.  Rounding out the ensemble are the swings and odd twins, Tom Kantor and Hannah McInerney. 

Caroline (Danielle Barnes) and Edna (Manali Datar). Photo: Dayna Ransley

The dialogue and lyrics in this show are total ear-candy: sharp, surprising, funny, relevant. The music spans a range of pop genres and while there aren’t any tunes that are instantly hummable, the overall impact is one of coherence and explosive power. 

What’s notable and truly refreshing is the diversity of people on stage. It’s a cast that defies the homogeny of type that usually dominates this kind of theatre, and it is a cast that is much more representative of the real world. 

Lily (Mel O’Brien). Photo: Dayna Ransley

Also worthy of gleeful note is that this is an Australian musical with Australian accents and idioms. 

Now in its third reprisal in three years (with two and a half years of pandemic in the mix!) it looks like Fangirls is quickly garnering its own fanbase, and rightly so. 

Come and support the local team and have a great theatre experience as your reward. 

Until 4 September

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Pt

https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on/musical-theatre/2022/fangirls-the-musical.html

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