The Hello Girls Off-Broadway musical runs until December 22
By Madison Menz
The "Hello Girls" of World War I were a group of women recruited by General Pershing, and sworn into the United States Army to manage the manual telephone switchboards that connected communications across the entire American front lines.
Women were specifically recruited who were bilingual in both French and English. Some 7,000 stepped forward to volunteer, and 232 were chosen to participate in this special, high-importance war effort. These women literally paved the way for women in the workplace, and for women serving in the military -- yet, today, they are hardly remembered when we think about the history of World War I.
Cara Reichel, the musical's writer, and artistic director came across these women, and their incredible story, through a documentary called “Unsung Heroes” in 2014. After watching this, Reichel wrote up a grant to the National Education Association (NEA) to help develop the musical The Hello Girls with her co-writer Peter Mills.
In spring 2017, they commissioned the grant through the Prospect Theatre Company, using in-depth research to bring to life the story of the Hello Girls. Using sources such as “The Bell Telephone News” and “Stars and Stripes” both of which were wartime publications, they also read journals of Grace Banker, a chief operator among other sources they have found along the way. One of the most important sources was the recently-published book titled "The Hello Girls" by Elizabeth Cobb (also a WW1CC Commemorative Partner) in 2017.
Reichel and Mills wanted to make this musical an immersive, true to the historical experience of what these women went through, They wanted to show what the women truly endured, and accomplished, while having the job of being a Hello Girl.
An exclusive video peek from the play can be found here: https://www.broadwaybox.com/daily-scoop/exclusive-first-look-at-the-hello-girls-off-broadway/?fbclid=IwAR2nad6ToFM8BhotDBJ39gmboLnJ0V9ZwY-sv8_C0l8ukm2dVrgf-g3acXk
In a conversation with us, Cara Reichel talked about the play, and explained the meaning behind one of her favorite songs of the musical, “At the end of the first act of our show, there is a song called "Lives on the Line." The song is set during America's first offensive of WWI, at Cantigny. In this battle, the Hello Girls were not yet serving on the front lines -- the song is a "split screen" action between the experience of the men in the field and the women who were stationed a hundred or so miles away at Pershing's headquarters in Chaumont, keeping communications going through the telephone connections.
"The song shows just how essential both parts of the operation were -- but also how there was still a big difference in the men's and women's roles. It's a beautiful choral moment for the whole company to sing, and moving.”
The "Hello Girls' Off-Broadway production is an official World War One Centennial Commission Commemorative Partner. The show is currently playing at the 59E59 Theatres in New York, NY through December 22nd.
Tickets to the show can be purchased here: https://www.59e59.org/shows/show-detail/the-hello-girls/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImZfpg7yT3wIVUAOGCh3hYgS_EAAYASAAEgIenPD_BwE
A New York Times review of this remarkable WWI-themed Off-Broadway musical can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/02/theater/the-hello-girls-review.html
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Madison Menz is a Fall 2018 Intern with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.