A new musical pays tribute to the military exploits of women during the First World War | Online features

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After spending her childhood on Luke Air Force Base, Rosemarie Chandler finds it fitting that she plays one of the first women in combat during World War I in Phoenix Theater Company’s “The Hello Girls.”

“The Hello Girls,” which runs until Jan. 30, stars Chandler as Grace Banker, a switchboard operator in charge of a body of women who went overseas during World War I.

The daughter of two military parents, Chandler lived on Luke AFB in the mid-1990s when she was 4 years old.

She remembers her parents attending a charity ball and leaving her older brother in charge. Instead of listening to him, she locked herself with her best friend’s neighbor in her father’s military closet full of freshly ironed and dry-cleaned suits.

“I started doing makeup and makeup on her flight suits and dressy outfits,” Chandler said. “My mom came home and she was furious.”

His younger brother is now stationed at Luke Air Force Base. During visits, she hears stories of female lieutenants.

“It’s definitely been hugely impactful to understand that part of my mother and also what it’s like to be a woman in general in the military today,” Chandler said. “They’ve come so far and made great strides, but I think there are still ways to become even more inclusive.”

His mother was a naval protocol officer for Admiral William Crowe and traveled the world with him. This is also how his parents met.

“They had the same rank,” Chandler said. “I love that part of their story. The first time he walked into the office, my mom was doing some paperwork. She didn’t even look up, she just handed him her papers and said: “Here you go, Mr. Chandler. My dad was instantly won over and started chasing her.”

Uncharted Waters

The women of “The Hello Girls” had a tougher ride because there were no women in the military. The musical is a modern retelling of an essential part of the history of the struggle for women’s rights.

The women were part of the Signal Corps telephone operator unit, commonly known as “The Hello Girls”. They are bilingual telephonists who helped turn the tide during the First World War and fought to get to the front lines. After the war, they spent decades fighting for equality and recognition.

The story jumped out at Cara Reichel, the director and co-writer of the series.

“As someone who does musicals, I’m always on the lookout for stories and ideas,” Reichel said. “I kind of have a mental Rolodex of things. I clearly remember when I first encountered their story – a very brief mention of them in a larger documentary on the history of women in the military. The name was ‘Unsung Heroes’, and I thought maybe someone should sing about these women.

Reichel co-wrote the musical with her husband, Peter Mills. The couple, along with college friends, founded the Prospect Theater in New York 20 years ago. “The Hello Girls” premiered there.

“This show is an opportunity to tell a slice of history that has had a significant impact on women’s rights in our country but is not widely known,” Reichel said. “The characters represent real-life military heroines who disrupted the status quo in the early 20th century and helped pivot the outcome of World War I.”

The National Endowment for the Arts commissioned “The Hello Girls,” and she and Mills researched the stories of these women.

“We came across a lot of fun things that inspired songs,” Reichel said. “One of the first songs was actually the title track. It was inspired by a particular article we read in the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. There was an article for Hello Girls, and it It was interesting to see what the men in the army thought of them. There were gender perceptions, but there was also real positivity that they were helping the war effort.

They also studied how standards work. The song “Connected” teaches the audience and characters how standards work. It is also a metaphor of voices coming together.

The music immediately inspired Chandler.

“Just like writers Peter Mills and Cara Reichel capture such tense moments, like when they’re sailing across the Atlantic,” Chandler said. “It gives me goosebumps. Then, at the end of the play, we come together as an ensemble and sing to write the story. We ask the audience the question: ‘How do you want to make an impact? »

Music, she says, spans many genres.

“There’s your classic Broadway number called ‘The Hello Girls’ when they first arrive in Paris and the doughboys are thrilled to have American operators,” she said.

“It’s a Broadway dance number. You even have a rock number called “The Front” where the girls get together and agree that they have to go to the front no matter what and they make a pact to make it happen.

She said recurring musical phrases define the characters.

“If I could describe the music in two words, it’s smart and moving,” Chandler said. “It’s really just an honor and a joy to be able to sing it.”

“The Hello Girls” premiered in New York in 2018 and received three Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Music, Score and Lyrics.

“It still seems relevant,” Reichel said. “We are waging war against COVID. It forces us to come together as a society and solve problems. I hope the show will have an even deeper resonance given what we’re going through. We were so grateful that the Phoenix Theater reached out to us and wanted to tell the story here in this community.

“It’s not just a celebration and a testament to the Hello Girls, but the story arc really turns to the audience and makes us ask them a question. asking how he wants to answer the call in his life and how he wants to impact people. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day. Without each other, we would be nothing.”

If you are going to…

WHAT: “Hello Girls”

WHEN: Several times until January 30

OR: Hormel Theater of the Phoenix Theater Company, 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix

COST: Tickets start at $44

INFORMATION: 602-254-2151, phoenixtheatre.com

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