Review: Fangirls (2022) at Sydney Opera House

The hit 2019 musical Fangirls—Yve Blake’s love letter to teenage girls and their passions—is back for a third production in four years, and if those stats aren’t enough to convince you to buy a ticket, then I don’t know what will.

14-year-old Edna is, like, in LOVE in love with Harry Styles (Blake Appelqvist), the lead singer of world-famous UK boyband One DirectionTrue Connections. A scholarship student at a new school struggling with friendships, Edna finds comfort and connection listening to Harry’s music. So, when Harry’s world tour comes to Sydney, she literally has to meet him—no matter what it takes.

Blake wrote the book, music and lyrics, and her writing remains the most authentic depiction of teenagers, social media and online fan communities that I’ve ever seen on stage. It’s no wonder this show is resonating so strongly with young people, particularly young women.

After staging the first two productions on the thrust stages of Belvoir and the Seymour Centre, Director Paige Rattray has brought Fangirls to the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre.

This traditional proscenium stage is a big improvement, better showing off Leonard Mickelo’s choreography, and David Fleischer and Justin Harrison’s inventive video designs.

Rattray has totally recast for Fangirls’ third run, with Manali Datar leading the show brilliantly as the giddy and youthful Edna, with an impressive vocal belt. The entire ensemble brings boatloads of talent and humour, but the hilarious Mel O’Brien is a clear crowd-favourite.

Through True Connection’s witty songs, Blake successfully satirises the shallow, pandering lyricism of a lot of mainstream pop, delivering such zingers as “We are the generation whose gonna make all the change” and “I like your fingertips, I like your soul, Thinking of your messy hair, I’m like: woah”.

However, the script begins to falter when reconciling the hilarious and farcical kidnapping plotline, with the serious themes it wants to discuss. The second, weaker, act introduces and carries several weightier themes like sexism, self-harm, and body dysmorphia, which doesn’t fully align with the joyous, silly tone established in the first hour. Additionally, the show’s final moments feel very rushed— wrapping up the high stakes plot line quickly and a little unsatisfyingly.

I don’t want these nit-picks to detract from what is an incredibly enjoyable and successful show. Rather, I flag these dramaturgical issues because I truly believe that Fangirls has the potential to play on a Broadway stage one day, and hope it continues to grow and improve with each iteration. Fangirls is a joyful, hilarious show that demonstrates an incisive understanding of contemporary fandom culture in the internet age, and I can’t wait to see it staged again.

Jo Bradley

This review was originally posted on the ATYP website in August 2022.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s