New musical honors military exploits of women in WWI

Published: 15 January 2022

By Bridgette M. Redman
via The Glendale Star newspaper (AZ) web site

Rosemarie Chandler as Grace Banker in the Phoenix Theatre Companys production of The Hello Girls

Rosemarie Chandler as Grace Banker in the Phoenix Theatre Company's production of The Hello Girls

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

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

The daughter of two military parents, Chandler lived on Luke AFB in the mid-1990s at the age of 4.

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

“I started doing makeup and got makeup all over his flight suits and dress suits,” Chandler said. “My mom came home, and she was furious.”

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

“It’s definitely been hugely impactful to understand that part of my mom and also what it is 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 we can become even more inclusive.”

Her mother was a protocol officer in the Navy for Adm. William Crowe and traveled around the world with him. It was also how her parents met.

“They held the same rank,” Chandler said. “I love that part of their story. The first time he walked into the office, my mom was doing paperwork. She didn’t even look up. She just handed him his paperwork and said, ‘Here you go, Mr. Chandler.’ My dad was smitten right away and went about pursuing her.”

Uncharted waters

The women in “The Hello Girls” had a more challenging route, as there were no women in the military. The musical is a modern retelling of a critical part of history in the struggle for women’s rights.

The women were part of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, typically known as “The Hello Girls.” They were bilingual telephone operators who helped turn the tide in World War I and fought to make their way to the front lines. After the war, they spent decades fighting for equality and recognition.

The story jumped out at Cara Reichel, the show’s director and co-writer.

“As someone who makes musicals, I’m always on the lookout for stories and ideas,” Reichel said. “I kind of have a mental Rolodex of things. I remember clearly 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.”

Read the entire article on The Glendale Star web site.

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