Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘The Hello Girls’ tells unknown story of women in WWI

Four Seasons Theater brings forgotten story of bilingual switchboard operators to life
Abi Johnson as Suzanne Prevot, Sheridan Hearn as Louise LeBreton, Kelsey Anne Johnson as Bertha Hunt, Natalie Davies as Helen Hill Photo Credit: Eric Schwierske, Jepp Photography

Four Seasons Theatre will present “The Hello Girls: A New American Musical” at the Playhouse in the Overture Center through March 3.

“The Hello Girls: A New American Musical” tells the story of the heroic women of the U.S. Signal Corps, introducing audience members to the hidden history of the first bilingual telephone operators who served on the front lines and helped turn the tide for World War I. They then returned home to fight a decades-long battle for equality and recognition, paving the way for future generations.

Four Seasons Theatre is no novice to historical shows centered around WWI, having put on “The Greatest War,” a show about Wisconsin in World War I and “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914.”


Producing Artist Director Sarah Marty thought “The Hello Girls” was a perfect fit for Four Seasons Theatre because of its small ensemble cast of 10, its connection to history and its female-centered story — the perfect counterpoint to their previous historical productions.

Not only does this show allow audience members to learn about the role of women in WWI, but also to see the humanity behind history.

The audience can connect with events that happened 100 years ago and people who were not at the forefront of history lessons.

Madison Ballet celebrates inclusion with ‘Love’ premiere

“It’s that chance to connect with another person across centuries and to see yourself or a friend or a colleague or a neighbor in one of those stories on stage and to realize we’re not that much different than we were then,” Marty said. “When we think of technology today versus 1914, or 1917, or 1918, it feels like it’s such a long time ago but in reality, it’s not.”

University of Wisconsin senior Gabriella Unitan plays the small part of Agnes while simultaneously acting as a swing for characters Helen Hill and Louise LeBreton.

As a swing, Unitan serves as an understudy for the actresses as well as sits backstage in case something goes wrong mid-show, being prepared to jump in at any moment.

To prepare for the show, the cast had to familiarize themselves with French as the female switchboard operators translated from French to English, and vice versa.

“One of my characters that I understudy for, Louise LeBreton, who’s played by Sheridan Hearn is from France,” Unitan said. “So she not only has a thick accent but she’s meant to be fluent when she talks in French. I think the only way as a non-French speaker that I was going to sound anywhere decent was to just get it into muscle memory.”

To prepare, Unitan stood in her grandparents’ laundry room listening and repeating French tracks over and over again during winter break.

For Unitan, learning French and multiple roles wasn’t even the most challenging aspect of the show. Though she learned valuable time management skills, as an undergraduate student she juggled classes, an internship and rehearsals.

But she’s honored to be able to tell the unknown story of these women.

“I really just want people to know how heroic and how brave these women were running the switchboard,” Unitan said. “I mean when you’re watching the women who play our five switchboard operators when you’re watching them translate from English to French and the codes that are being used in the war and everything like that all while combating that they weren’t even being recognized as soldiers. It’s really powerful.”

Unitan also credits the writers for creating a show about women but doesn’t push any agenda, explaining the mindset of the men and society at the time.

Women were not allowed on the frontlines and were seen as civil, not deserving of being put in dangerous situations.

Waste less films festival addresses climate change

“But then it also portrays the women being to help their country and being patriotic,” Unitan said. “I just feel honored and very proud to be helping bring the story to the Madison community.”

She added that this is a great show for anyone to watch, especially those who are interested in theater and history.

The cast worked with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and saw newspaper ads from the time, which allowed them to see just how historically accurate the show is.

As a way to provide the audience with more historical context, Four Seasons Theatre partners with Kevin Hampton from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, to host pre-show lectures at The Playhouse lobby. Hampton hosted lectures before “All is Calm,” which had a popular turnout.

“He’s an amazing teacher and history educator,” Marty said. “And our audience really appreciated the chance to sort of learn the history behind the stories that we’re being told and to get a better context for World War I because we don’t learn a lot about it in school because the U.S. got involved so late.”

Preshow lectures take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays, no ticket is necessary. A panel event will also take place Feb. 24 at 4:45 p.m., which celebrates women in the military and the use of art to honor and share their stories.

Tickets are available through the Overture Center with student tickets available in person for $15 with a limit of two per student ID. The show runs from Feb. 22 to March 3.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *