Musical review: FANGIRLS

The successful musical about pop culture makes a triumphant return to Sydney.

FANGIRLS focusses on the boy-band fanaticism of a group of hormonal 14-year-old girls from Sydney. The show’s writer, Yve Blake, became obsessed with teen fanatics after her niece earnestly announced she was going to marry Harry Styles from the band One Direction. Blake started following fangirls on Twitter as they shared photos, paintings and even DIY totems of boy band members.

When a member of the band One Direction left and the press labelled the fans psycho, creepy and crazy for expressing their outrage and pain however, Blake paused and asked why it was that the image of young girls screaming was considered psycho, while boys screaming at the footy was not? She decided that far from being the insane cry of young banshees, the fangirl shriek was a superpower, and a ‘fearless and honest expression of pure celebration and joy’.

FANGIRLS tells the story of  three school friends, Edna (Manali Datar), Jules (Milo Harthill) and Brianna (Tonieka Del Rosario) whose lives revolve around their teen heart-throb Harry (Blake Appelqvist), singer with boy-band True Connection. Edna doesn’t feel her single mum (Danielle Barnes) understands her, and struggles to fit in at the all-girls high school she attends on a scholarship. She also writes ‘psycho fan fic’ which she shares with fellow fan, Salty (Jesse Dutlow) in an online chatroom for fans of the band. Together they create a narrative in which Harry is kidnapped.

When the band announces a concert in Sydney, and the ticket price pushes it well beyond her reach, Edna takes events in to her own hands and hatches a plan to make her ‘fan-fic’ reality by kidnapping Harry and hiding him in her bedroom. The second half of the show transforms the theatre audience into fans for the band’s concert. We are encouraged to sing along to a generic boy-band song, ‘Nobody Loves You Like Me’, switch on the torches on our phones, and wave them in the air. 

The Opera House website promotes FANGIRLS as a ‘human joy bomb of pure unadulterated enthusiasm’, and certainly the cast fulfil this promise. All of the younger members are fresh out of college, and brimming with talent.

Datar, Harthill, and Del Rosario nail the sulky, selfish and angst-ridden teen girls and Barnes gives a heart-warming and authentic portrayal of the difficulties of parenting a teenager. She also plays several other parts, including a wonderful cameo as a teen rapper in the protest vigil and march the fans hold when Harry goes missing.

Appelqvist is perfect as Harry, and Dutlow makes an impressive debut in the role of Salty Pringl. The staging is simple, with the teen bedrooms and school locker-room watched over by a large video wall of chat-room fans. The music (also written by Blake, and winner of an ARIA Award last year) is catchy and creative.  

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Blake says the script aims to make fun of the girls, as a way of ‘smuggling them into your heart’, but in between the joyous celebration of hormonal happiness and horror the musical also weaves a story of teen struggle and self-harm. Jules phones her dad, but he cuts her off as he as a meeting to go to. Brianna feels she is disgusting for having a flat chest.

On social media, the fans declare their love for their idols, but also express their innermost secrets and fears. One invites Harry to tea, saying her mum won’t mind, another tells him that today her dad hit her mum for the first time. When Harry goes missing the hashtag #cutforharry starts to trend.  

FANGIRLS is sure to become an iconic hit. Blake challenges her audience to ‘love things while we are still breathing’, and there’s a lot to love in this musical. It’s in its third run now in Australia, but still seems fresh and original. 

Sydney Opera House
Book, Music & Lyrics by Yve Blake
Directed by Paige Rattray
Cast:  Manali Datar, Blake Appelqvist, Milo Harthill, Tonieka Del Rosario, Jesse Dutlow, Danielle Barnes

Tickets: $59-$109

FANGIRLS will be performed until 4 September 2022

Virginia Balfour is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She has extensive experience working in the UK film and television industry as a producer and director, as well as an NGO film-maker in the USA. She is a published author and journalist and lives with her family in Sydney.