.‘The Hello Girls’ in Sonoma

The year is 1917. In New York, AT&T has trained a workforce of “Hello Girls” telephone operators. In France, American Army Gen. Pershing (Mike Pavone) is frustrated by the inability of French phone operators and American men to communicate.

The solution to Pershing’s troubles is as obvious now as it was controversial then: Recruit experienced women. This is the background for the 2018 musical The Hello Girls (music and lyrics by Peter Mills, book by Cara Reichel and Peter Mills), now playing at Sonoma Arts Live through May 5.

Director Maeve Smith, musical director Aja Gianola-Norris and choreographer Jonathan Blue have assembled a talented cast.

Jenny Veilleux plays chief operator Grace Banker. Veilleux has a beautiful voice and great charisma, but it is her portrayal of Banker’s complexity as an empathetic yet firm leader that makes it clear she is also a talented actor.

Banker’s commanding officer, Lt. Joseph Riser, is an obnoxiously accurate representation of the predominant attitude toward women during this time. The desire to alternatively smack and pat him on the head is a testament to actor Drew Bolander. A recent addition to the community, Bolander’s clean vocals and strong stage presence will surely be a boon to the local theater scene.

The rest of the cast are no slouches, either. Of special note is Tina Traboulsi’s Louise Le Breton. Her energetically mischievous portrayal helps the long production maintain its pacing.

Also of note is Caroline Shen, who plays Bertha Hunt. Shen is a talented singer/actor, but she is also a trooper, doing the role despite the very real cast on her foot.

In fact, the caring ease that all the actors show while assisting Shen throughout the production is a testament to how well this cast meshes.

Despite everyone’s hard work, the show does run long. A few songs needlessly reprise and there is an odd interpretive dance midway through the second act that breaks the terse illusion that has been built. Also adding time, the play does not end with a curtain call. Instead, the cast comes out to do an armed forces call out which feels oddly out of place despite its good intentions.

In short, this is a well-researched and enjoyable piece of Americana that manages to keep the sugar coating thin enough to see through and the jaded reality close enough to the surface that it doesn’t insult its audience’s intelligence.

Sonoma Arts Live presents ‘The Hello Girls’ through May 5 on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25 -$42. 707-484-4874. sonomaartslive.org.


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