Saturday, September 9, 2023

The Hello Girls

The Hello Girls – book by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, music and lyrics by Peter Mills.  Presented by Canberra Theatre Centre and Heartstrings Theatre Company at  The Playhouse, September 7-9, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 8

Director –  Jason Langley
Choreographer – Amy Orman; Musical Director – Alex Unikowski
Costume Designer – Sarah Hordern; Costumier – Helen Wojtas
Set Design – Monique Langford; Lighting Design – Antony Hateley
Sound Design – Kyle Sheedy
Sound Effect Design – Noah Chrapot and Tallulah Gordon
Photographer – Jane Duong

Alexander Unikowski – keyboard, guitar, trumpet, trombone, clarinet
John Yoon – keyboard; Enola Jefferis – cello; Mel Fung – bass
Brandon Reed – drums

“Hello Girls”
Rhianna McCourt as Grace Banker; Ylaria Rogers as Suzanne Prevot
Petronella van Tienen as Helen Hill; Jessy Heath as Bertha Hunt
Kaitlin Nihill as Louise Lebreton
Swing – Kristy Griffin

Joel Hutchings as Riser;
Joel Horwood as Matterson/Interviewer 3/Marching Soldier/Soldier/Doughboy
David Hooley as Pershing/Mr Morris/Marching Soldier/Soldier/Ackerson/Doughboy
Jerrod Smith as Dempsey/Beaumont/Interviewer/Soldier/Backing Singer/
    Marching Soldier/1st Officer/Adjutant/Doughboy
Kaya Byrne as Wessen/German Prisoner/Interviewer/Marching Soldier/2nd Officer/
    Soldier/Doughboy/Signalman/Backing Singer


With a name like Heartstrings I was prepared for The Hello Girls falling into the terrifying risk trap that all theatre takes – the pit of sentimentality.  Even worse, of American sentimentality in this story of how their telephone operators risked their lives and ended the Great War on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.

But with a stunning real live band on stage not trying to pretend to be American; with actors who made it clear that they were playing being Americans; and with terrific choreography often venturing into satiric comedy, especially in the men’s parts; that trap was safely covered over.

As the whole cast gloriously sang later in the finale: “We are making history – telling the truth.  Will you answer the call?”  

Yes, in the sense that the Americans – men and these women – joined the war to defeat the Kaiser when France was in danger of being overrun; but also Yes for us to know the truths of our history, and to call out falsifications and the wrongs done even to those on our own side.  It was damning information when of the 223 women who did their duty, it was 1977 before they were given veterans’ rights; and only 33 were still alive to claim those rights by then.

Follow their story at

The matter of false assumptions is picked up in a brief but telling scene where the women meet a German prisoner employed to clean their office.  He is educated and engaged in French culture; speaks of soldiers having no choice about fighting; and how the killing of unarmed men happens on all sides in war – to save the cost they would be as prisoners.  He had begged for mercy (and was used as a cleaner), but one of very few from his platoon.

The show, rather like Come From Away in style, is full of energy, terrific singing and acting – in other words, is highly entertaining.  But it is entertainment with purpose, and the feeling coming off the stage powerfully in that finale and curtain call was pride in what the company has done to bring this to us.  Because it is the understanding of people’s commitment to their culture to make change happen and combining that recognition with a demand for truth-telling that is the universal message, not just about the past but about our very present and future in Australia as we vote in the forthcoming referendum for a First Nations’ Voice to be included in our nation’s Constitution.

The 223 Hello Girls themselves made history.  This production of their story foreshadows the making of history on October 14.

The Hello Girls
Heartstrings Theatre 2023