Front Row Reviews

“The Hello Girls” Spotlights Women Warriors  

Sonoma Arts Live “The Hello Girls” masterfully blends a first-rate musical with a tumultuous WWI offensive, showcasing five spirited and courageous women warriors.

Set Designer Laurynn Malilay and Maeve Smith skillfully incorporate both orchestra and characters on stage. Three characters even play musical instruments. Four chairs face the audience, and the actors impressively animate working the switchboard. Ten characters seamlessly navigate the stage with instruments and a movable piano behind them.  

When Allied forces entered World War I, they found themselves facing communication breakdowns. Language barriers and inexperienced soldiers operating the switchboards proved deadly. Hense, General John J. Pershing (performed by Mike Pavone) issued a call for seasoned French-speaking women switchboard operators. This led to the establishment of the first Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, affectionately referred to as The Hello Girls.  

The ensemble’s stirring rendition of “Answer the Call” draws us into the war’s action, questioning if we would step up. “If you had the chance, would you answer the call?”

Quick-minded Grace Banker, portrayed by the straightforward Jenny Veilleux, leads the first group of women operators to France. Veilleux displays fierce dedication and caring behind Banker’s stern exterior. Adept Suzanne Prevot, portraying opinionated Sarah Lundstrom, serves as Banker’s best friend and advisor.

Banker finds herself in a clash with the sardonic Lt. Joseph Riser, portrayed by demanding Drew Bolander. He embodies the pervasive discrimination and skepticism towards women serving in the army. Other portrayals accompanying Banker and Lundstrom are: Caroline Shen as the resilient, married Bertha Hun, Emily Owens Evans as sweet, impoverished Helen Hill, and Tina Traboulsi as snarky, witty Louise LeBreton. All bring charm and depth to their characters.

Emily Owens Evens (Helen), Sarah Lundstrom (Suzanne), Tina Traboulsi (Louise), Jenny Veilleux (Grace Banker)

The women’s comradery is felt in each scene and song. They face not only hazing, but also poor living conditions, food, and horrific hours at the switchboards. But they persevere, sing and dance, and formally request to go to the front where better communication is paramount!

Noteworthy performances by Skyler King, Phi Tran, and Jonathen Blue. They deliver diverse portrayals of soldiers laying cable under fire, and fighting in the field. They also deliver comedic relief from pervasive military attitudes.

Jonathan Blue (Keys), PhiTran (Morris), Skyler King (Matterson)

Then, as the women gained respect, they achieved their final wish to go to the front. The ensemble resounds a poignant rendition of “See You on the Other Side.” They further impact the audience with the realized fear of “shipping out” to the front: “Long last looks … no turning back … the enemy surrounds us.”

The book by Cara Reichel and Peter Mills, along with the powerful lyrics and music by Peter Mills, delivered by Music Director Aja Gianola-Norris, carries an emotional pro-women message through powerful songs. Instrumental accompaniments, skillfully provided, include actors: Caroline Shen, Emily Owens Evans, and Tina Traboulsi.  

It is remarkable how well Director Maeve Smith pulled together ten talented actors in a tight, quick paced, and touching musical.  

“The Hello Girls” exposes an important part of history to carry a salient message for today: “Answer the Call” to help humanity and fight against the prejudice we face at home. Be Warriors. See this.

“The Hello Girls” written by Cara Reichel and Peter Mills, music and lyrics by Peter Mills, directed by Maeve Smith, Choreography by Jonathan Blue, Costumes by Jaime Love and Maeve Smith, Lighting by Frank Sarubbi, and Elaine Herrick on Bass/Cello and Elizabeth Dreyer Robinson/Erica Dori on Percussion at Sonoma Arts Live, info: Theatre Company, Sonoma California to May 5

Cast: Jonathen Blue, Drew Bolander, Emily Owens Evans, Skyler King, Sarah Lundstrom, Mike Pavone, Caroline Shen, Tina Traboulsi, Phi Tran, Jenny Veilleux

Top Photo: Ensamble, Photos by Miller O berlin