Musical theatre / “The Hello Girls”, written by Peter and Cara Reichel, directed by Jason Langley. At The Playhouse, until September 9. Reviewed by LEN POWER.
TAKING us back to 1918 and the US Army in Europe, “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 I.
In that era only men went to war and it took many years for these women’s service to be recognised 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 I 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.
The four other girls, Ylaria Rogers, Petronella Van Tienen, Jessy Heath and Kaitlin Nihill all play strong individual characters, singing the complex songs with assurance. Their singing of the title song, “Hello, Girls”, was especially enjoyable.
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 recognise 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 it a memorable show.
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