“Hello Girls” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – January 16, 2022


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Hormel Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

An entertaining and charming new musical “Hello Girls” also provides a bit of generally unknown historic background on the winning of World War I.  The show debuted off-Broadway in 2018 and is now receiving its Western United States premiere in a spot-on production at The Phoenix Theatre Company.  It boasts a talented ensemble cast and energetic staging by Cara Reichel who co-authored the show’s book with Peter Mills who penned a hummable score that enhances the musical’s moving and telling story.

“Hello Girls” outlines the first women accepted into the U.S. Armed Forces who solved a military communication problem.  The American’s tried to use male telephone operators because of female discrimination.  But the men couldn’t handle connecting critical military communication so women operators were begrudgingly hired and brilliantly connected over 26 million calls during the War.  Many calls were critical military discussions that enabled the Americans and Europeans to win the war while helping end unjustified sexual discrimination.  The women worked beautifully beside male military leadership.

The show reveals the diverse personalities of six female operators.  Some were secure and formidable; some were shy and hesitant but all committed to winning the War.  Composer/lyricist Mills crafted tunes that sound like the historic period but provide insight into the unique personalities that formed this group that failed to achieve proper recognition and military rankings until 1977 after many of the women had passed away including the group’s gifted leader Grace Banker.

The exemplary cast craft insightful interpretations of these unusually adaptive and creative women.  Five men portray the military leaders who introduced the women to the rigors of military rules and customs.  And the performers also provide the orchestral accompaniment as they play the characters with nimble aplomb.

Most impressive is Rosemarie Chandler’s Grace who leads the women knowing when to challenge military rules and when to guide the women into accepting procedures they don’t understand. Michelle Chin plays born-in-rural-Idaho Helen who tends to whine annoyingly, Bonnie Beus Romney essays straight-laced Bertha, Gabrielle Smith plays a mean flute as Suzanne, Carmina Garey is sassy French-heritage Louise, and Alicia Ferrin adds orchestral depth while playing small roles.

Of the men, Scott Wakefield plays a blustery General Pershing who is eventually won over by the female operators.  Alex Crossland’s Private Matterson and Teddy Ladley’s Captain Riser add the doubting military heads who later turn believers after their women’s machinations prove right-on.

“Hello Girls” provides both interesting historical background and delightful entertainment.  It   continues through January 30.  For tickets, contact The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A