5 stars

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? To be a 14-year-old obsessive fan of something? Most of us won’t want to remember as we were all dead embarrassing then, but if you’re ready to enjoy Australia’s hottest new musical, it’s time to ask your mum for money to buy you tickets to Fangirls at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse Theatre asap! Use your best teenage guilt tactics – otherwise, you’ll be actually dead if you miss out.

Fangirls is a complete experience, with a full house and audiences were delighted to be there after the year we’ve had! Step into the world of Edna, a plucky misfit scholarship girl who believes that she alone can win the heart of the world’s biggest pop star; Harry. Sure, he has 38 million other fans, but for Edna, that’s merely a hurdle. Because there’s nothing she won’t do to prove to Harry that she’s the one. Literally, nothing.

Yve Blake is a true musical theatre writing triple threat – having written the book, music and lyrics for the show, and manages to dig into everything that’s good and bad about the fandom culture, and the show has the same levels of light and dark paired with razor sharp comedy. We see the incredible communities and international friendships a fandom can bring, and how people bond over things they love, side by side with the ‘crazies’ and fans and where obsession can become dangerous and all consuming. We also see the vulnerability of young people and the way young people may escape into their passions, feel they have found a friend or confidant and a genuine connection through music and performance to these stars, as the young characters reflect and channel their challenges into their creative outlets (like fan fiction) and how they reflect these into their friendships. It’s full of immaturity, of love, hope, obsession, passion and friendship, while also examining the culture of gender roles around stereotypes on female fandom versus male sports fans.

Blake’s masterful storytelling in making all of these sentiments feel real, while combining it with a completely relatable storyline of teen friendship and crushes, is a feat to behold. The show manages to make fun of the pop music genre and all of the tropes that come with it, from ridiculous videos and outlandish lyrics promising forever, while also completely honouring it and showing off all the best bits – its full of contemporary electronic pop songs and sounds paired with fresh musical theatre writing. The songs can hold their own as funny pop tracks on the cast album (which has just been released in full on Spotify and already has amassed thousands of plays– listen here).

The comedy and wit of the lyrics and book cannot be underestimated here – the audience spent most of the show with dropped jaws, sniggering, full belly laughs and gasps of disbelief – I don’t want to ruin the plot twists, the clever jokes through to the crude ones, the plays on words, but with Blake’s words and direction by Paige Rattray, the show works itself into a fever pitch of excitement before the rapid plot twists and the Act 2 opener which has audiences dancing and cheering along as the show becomes a full blown pop concert.

It’s a spectacle with a pop concert feel, with pop concert style lighting (by Emma Valente) and sound design (by music producer and sound designer David Muratore) paired with performances that are stadium worthy.

Stepping into the lead role is powerhouse swing Shannen Alyce Quan (with Karis Oka off with last minute illness- get better soon!) – Quan’s Edna is the most energetic, passionate, insane 14 year old girl with a killer belt and some serious dance moves; she and the cast are completely believable as the insecure young people they portray. With AYDAN’s silky smooth pop vocals and dance moves, backed with maybe a little bit of experience with fangirls from his time on The Voice, Chika Ikogwe as Jules and Shubshri Kandiah as Brianna, Edna’s BFFS, portray every bit of teenage heartbreak, blackmail, manipulation and  Red Bull fuelled mania of your teenage discovery years, and a hge special mention to Ayesha Madon as sweet Lily who snaps from Mariah Carey level runs and riffs to obsessive self proclaimed wife of Harry faster than One Direction tickets sold out in 2012 and 2013.

Stand out numbers across the show, from both music and lyrics and dynamite performances are ‘Wait and See’ (a brand new self expression song about not giving up), ‘Actually Dead’ and ‘Got No Chill’ smashes up teen speak with tight beats and non stop dance moves at the height of the conflict, ‘Night of Our Lives’ captures all of the youth and exuberance and excitement of your first concert and ‘Disgusting’ and ‘Silly Little Girl’ show vulnerability and heartache.

You’re going to become so emotionally involved in the show – I spent the whole time on the edge of my seat clutching my chest, jaw dropped or gasping in reaction to the words, the dialogue, the characters. Combining all of the pressure and mental health struggles young teens feel to change themselves to fit others, or to find themselves and their place in the world, with female friendship, being told you’re just a silly little girl – the show gives agency back to the fans and to young women to show their depth and struggles while also weaving a love letter to who they are and why they don’t need to change – Blake said she wrote the show to be something she would have loved to see as a 14 year old, and she’s completely delivered that mission.

The show barely puts a foot wrong – occasionally the music overpowers the vocals, but the energy and atmosphere of the show and the vocal power of the cast of 9 make up for it. The digital backdrop created by Set, Video Content and Costume Designer David Fleischer and Video Content Design and Production by Justin Harrison embraces the digital world of fandom and creates a layered world of fan videos and pop concert style displays, that with the minimal set, feels like an immersive concert experience rather than lacking in any way.

The audience for the show seems to be younger than most audiences for an Arts Centre Melbourne show, with a wide range of age groups in the audience, all of which roared with laughter across the show – it has something for everyone. From relating to it from your teenage years, to being a parent on the receiving end of this teenage behaviour, to just enjoying a bloody good new musical, it appeals to everyone and has great representation in the casting – truly a musical for 2021.

The full audience, plus this show gives me hope and excitement for the future of new musical theatre in Australia – This show is going to surprise and delight you, make you laugh, having you dancing in your seat and feeling like you’re at a pop concert. It’s catchy, its cheeky, and the amount of fun you have is going to stay with you long after the final song – lucky you can keep listening online with the cast soundtrack release! Welcome to being a Fangirls fan, literally, and you’ll be literally dead if you miss this brilliant show.

 

Fangirls wraps up an Australian tour in Melbourne at the Arts Centre Melbourne on Sunday 9 May 2021, after performing in Sydney, Adelaide, Wollongong and Canberra in early 2021.

Production images: Brett Boardman

Tickets and more information on the show – https://www.fangirlsmusical.com/

Final tickets for the Melbourne performances – https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2021/musical/fangirls

This review is for the performance on Friday 30 April where Shannen Alyce Quan played the role of Edna instead of Karis Oka. 

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