Written by Peter and Cara Reichel
Directed by Jason
The Playhouse, Canberra
Theatre Centre to September 9
Reviewed by Len Power 8 September 2023
Taking us back to 1918 and the US Army in Europe, Heartstrings Theatre’s “The Hello Girls” tells the story of a group of female telephone operators who were recruited from back home in America to assist with vital communications at the Front in World War One. In that era only men went to war and it took many years for these women’s service to be recognized and honoured, blazing a trail for equality for today’s women in the armed forces.
Focusing on five women and the misogyny and sexism they faced while trying to do their work under trying conditions, this bright and clever musical is both entertaining and poignant. The music and lyrics by Peter Mills capture the times and characters in a mixture of styles from ragtime to folk and the musical director, Alex Unikowski, and his musicians bring out the colour in this clever and subtle score.
The attractive set of radio masts and telegraph wires, designed by Monique Langford, gives an instant atmosphere to this show with strong and creative direction by Jason Langley and appropriately energetic and quirky choreography by Amy Orman. The costumes, well-designed by Sarah Hordern, capture the World War One period but also reach forward with hints of present day fashions.
The show has a strong cast who all give fine, in-depth performances full of character. Rhianna McCourt is outstanding as Grace Banker, the leader of the five girls. From the outset she strongly establishes her in-charge character and later, in the song, “Twenty” she all but stops the show with a display of emotional fireworks as her frustrations boil to the surface.
Rhianna McCourt and the girls
Joel Hutchings is excellent as Captain Riser, an army man who is reluctant at first to accept charge of the women but who grows to recognize their contribution. He gave a confident and winning performance of the song “Marching Orders”.
The other men in the cast – Joel Horwood, David Hooley, Jerrod Smith and Kaya Byrne - mostly play multiple roles but they bring each of their characters strongly to life.
With an atmospheric lighting design by Antony Hateley and clever sound design by Kyle Sheedy, this whole production displayed a highly professional polish, making this a memorable show.
This review was first
published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 9 September 2023.
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.