Back in early 2021, I saw a little-known production titled FANGIRLS at the Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne. I was completely blown away and could not help but return to the theatre to experience it as many times as I could. Once it was over, I was saddened that I may never see this powerful show ever again. Thankfully, FANGIRLS was due to make a triumphant return. This time at Australia’s most iconic theatre venue, the Sydney Opera House.
With book, music and lyrics by Yve Blake, FANGIRLS is centred around the life of a fourteen-year-old girl who is obsessed with one of the members of the largest boy band in the world. Edna, portrayed by Manali Data, is head over heels for Harry, portrayed by Blake Appelqvist, from True Connection. So much so, that she writes fanfictions with other fans online. Whilst the stories are nothing but fantasy, it is when True Connection announce an Australian Tour that gives Edna the idea that she might actually get the chance to free him.
Now, we have all heard the term ‘fan girl’ before and for the most part, it is assigned to a group of young females obsessing over an artist or celebrity. It is generally used with a negative connotation, often labelling them hysterical or crazy. FANGIRLS seeks to break that stigma and attempts to show the audience what it is like through the eyes of a teenage girl. And it is not long before we are given a glimpse of the message that this show holds with the second song, ‘Nobody’. This number perfectly encapsulates the feelings and emotions that these young people are going through when they fall in love with an artist, in this case, Harry.
We are also given our first real look at the insatiable Harry with his face plastered all over the giant screens that line the back of the stage. The crowd were, ironically, cheering and clapping hysterically at the sight of the popstar. The energy inside the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre was at fever pitch and it was only the second number.
I am sure we have all felt the panic of buying concert tickets, let alone receiving an announcement of your favourite band touring. Not only are they finally coming, the tickets go on sale with next to no notice and are always at inconvenient times. I have never before felt so seen than I did when I first heard the number, ‘The Announcement’. It covers everything from ticket prices to time of sale to the so called ‘Australian Tour’ that only performs in Sydney and/or Melbourne. I could hear the murmuring around me agreeing with the lyrics. We were only about halfway through act one and it was clear that this production and its incredible cast had already won over its audience and it was only just getting started.
Whilst this is the third time FANGIRLS has hit the stage in Sydney, Yve Blake has taken some creative freedoms and has tweaked the show just a little. A few lyric changes and adjustments to the character personas, whilst subtle, have elevated this production to the next level. With exception of Danielle Barnes who portrays Edna’s Mother, Caroline, and other characters during the second tour, as well as Tomáš Kantor, the Sydney Opera House cast is completely fresh and bring their own powerfully unique perspectives to the roles I already adored.
Mel O’Brian as Lily blows the audience away with her insane pipes and comedically timed vocal runs. Tonieka Del Rosario shines as Brianna and her power during ‘Justice’ is a sight to behold. Swings Tomáš Kantor and Hannah McInerney are utterly hilarious during the start of the second act. I don’t want to spoil it, but I was loving every minute of it.
Jesse Dutlow is fantastic in their portrayal of Edna’s online-bestie, Saltypringl. They bring all of the sass and wholesomeness that the character deserves. Milo Hartill’s big, bold and strong personality shines thru in her portrayal of Jules, and she has the vocal chops to match. Not to mention, she can also rap like a boss. Just wait until you check out her solo during, ‘Night of Our Lives’. The audience were completely blown away. Not to mention her hilarious take on the apology during ‘The Woods’ with those insane vocal runs. WOW.
I have forever adored Blake Appelqvist’s vocals as Harry due to them appearing on the cast recording, which is available on iTunes and Spotify. But nothing would have ever prepared me for bearing witness to the performance live on stage. I was sitting firmly in my seat and my knees were weak! Blake’s voice is truly sublime and the runs they pull off during each song are out of this world. Honestly, if Blake were to ever tour, I would 100% go and see them.
Of course, FANGIRLS would not be complete without the girl at the centre of it all. Manali Datar as Edna is a force to be reckoned with. Whilst I had seen her previously in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and knew she could give the role her all, I had no idea what to expect from a vocal performance. I was completely blown away! I could feel the anger and frustration in her voice during ‘Silly Little Girl’. The way she looked into the eyes of the audience, forcing the emotion into my soul, gave so much more power to the lyrics. So much that it brought a tear to my eye and had me really thinking about the messaging of this show. Not only is she emotionally powerful, but she is also equally as emotionally awkward when needed. A brilliant portrayal of Edna and one that I am thankful to have witnessed.
FANGIRLS is more than just a story about fans obsessing about their favourite artist, it is about how society treats young humans for being passionate about something they believe in. Why do they have to be ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy’ when all they are doing is pouring their heart and soul into something they love?
It is perfectly okay for people to be so enthusiastic about sport, pile into a stadium and yell and scream during the match. But when it comes to a young woman doing the same thing about a music artist, it is considered crazy. Give me a break! We should embrace it, nurture it, and even encourage it. If anything, I strongly believe that FANGIRLS should be essential viewing for everyone as an educational piece. Maybe then society will stop dragging these young passionate souls down and lift them up instead.
Ironically, FANGIRLS the musical has created its own group of fans that are as loving and ‘hysterical’ as the characters are within the production. I for one am also a fan for FANGIRLS and hope to be able to see this production at least one more time before it leaves Australian theatres for good. If anything, I hope the production leaves Australia to tour the world, because 100% deserves, nay, needs to be seen by the entire planet. I am extremely lucky and thankful to have seen this show evolve into the powerhouse that it is today, and Yve Blake should be immensely proud of her creation.
FANGIRLS is performing now at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House until Sunday the 4th of September, 2022. If you are in Sydney, you need to see this! Even if you are not, make a weekend of it and travel to see this incredible production.
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Photography by Dayna Ransley.