Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars
Fangirls 2021
Photograph: Brett Boardman | Chika Ikogwe
Fangirls 2021
Photograph: Brett Boardman | Karis Oka
Fangirls 2021
Photograph: Brett Boardman
Fangirls 2021
Photograph: Brett Boardman | Shubshri Kandiah and James Majoos

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Pop superfans are celebrated in Belvoir's sparkly musical about a young girl and her pop star obsession

Yve Blake’s joyous Australian musical about the agony and ecstasy of teen longing, Fangirls, is back by popular demand as the first cab off the ranks in Belvoir St’s 2021 season. Karis Oka steps into the lead role of Edna – played by Blake herself In the 2019 run – a teenage girl obsessed with Harry, lead singer of global sensation boyband True Connection (played by Aydan, who made waves on The Voice). When the band announces an Australian tour, Edna hopes to meet her number one crush.

The script, music and lyrics are written by Blake, and a returning Paige Rattray, who is also joined by most of the original cast, lovingly directs. Returning to the stage on the other side of all that 2020 threw at us, Fangirls retains much of what had audiences ‘fangirling’ for it on its first foray. The show is a sympathetic look at the intense teenage kicks felt by young women admiring their favourite pop stars from afar. It’s also a savvy reading of the effect of our increasingly digital landscape on them.

Fangirls has two main narrative threads. The first is this story of Edna, her mother (Sharon Millerchip), and her complicated friendships with Brianna (Shubshri Kandiah) and Jules (Chika Ikogwe) – plus her online world of fan community, with the scene stealing James Majoos playing Saltypringl, a friend who lives halfway across the world. The second, conceptual thread that deepens the plot asks why young people – particularly girls and queer people – are dismissed as ‘silly’ for loving the bands that are marketed explicitly to them.

Blake herself asked, when talking to Ben Neutze for Time Out as the first run was in development: “Why is it that the image of boys screaming their lungs out at a football match might be labelled differently to an image of a group of women screaming their lungs out at a Justin Bieber concert?”

For all the joy Fangirls brings back with it, the niggling elements that have room to be improved remain unchanged. As critic Cassie Tongue put it in 2019: “The conceptual thread emerges too late in the second act for it to hit us hard; more work exploring these specific stakes in the first act as part of the musical’s essential worldbuilding would go a long way to shoring up the show’s denouement. Edna’s eleven o’clock number ‘Silly Little Girl’ is the clearest distillation of why fandom might matter so much to her, and you can’t help but wish we’d heard a version of it earlier; it would help us go on the journey of the show with her, rather than at a slight distance.”

Tongue added: “...With tighter dramaturgical massaging Fangirls could be unstoppable. As it stands now, it’s a treat: it’s taxonomy of teen obsession, it’s a glimpse behind the perpetually-closed door of teen becoming and you’re probably going to have some trouble getting the melodies out of your head.” 

All in all, this musical is a campy jaunt with a whole lot of heart, a smattering of EDM and glitter. It features characters that feel like real teenagers (rare!), and some knowingly awkward choreography. And for that it sure is worth fangirling over. 

Fangirls plays at the Seymour Centre until February 20 before heading on tour. Get tickets here.

What's up next? Read the first half of Belvoir's 2021 season here


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