Even if you’ve studied the life of King Henry VIII and his six wives, or seen them portrayed on film or television (such as Showtime’s The Tudors, Natalie Portman’s The Other Boleyn Girl, or PBS’s miniseries Wolf Hall), the latest glitter-bomb musical on Broadway, Six, brings the queens to life “in consort” in a whole new way. (Get it?)
Six, which was written and originally performed in 2017 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was co-created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, both of whom are currently directing the Broadway production alongside Jamie Armitage. It was there that producers took notice, leading to subsequent productions in the UK and elsewhere, as well as a cast record and a legion of loyal admirers.
The next step was a Broadway premiere, however on March 12, 2020—the musical’s scheduled opening night—theaters were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. More than a year and a half later, the queens are taking the Broadway stage in glittering gowns, with vocal runs that defy the laws of physics, and with choreography that is more tightly coordinated than a corset from the 16th century.
In Six, the characters of Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) take turns singing their respective roles and telling their stories.
The ex-wives had had it with being “just one word in a silly rhyme,” therefore they haven’t seen Henry in a while (You know the one: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”). Like every other singing competition before it, they’ve decided to form an all-female group and have the viewers vote on which member should be the lead vocalist based on who has the most tragic tale.
The musical has an all-female cast and an equally banging band (“women in waiting”), and it features plenty of witty dialogue and songs that would be perfect for radio. Each of the six draws influence from a different contemporary music superstar, and the resulting songs span the whole pop spectrum.
To me, Catherine of Aragon sounds like Beyoncé and Shakira, Anne Boleyn is like Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne, Jane Seymour is like Adele and Sia, Anna of Cleves is like the German lovechild of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, Katherine Howard is like Britney Spears and Ariana Grande (complete with a high ponytail), and Catherine Parr is like Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.
What better vehicle for a musical about women who are more complex than they are given credit for than pop music, which is sometimes dismissed as light and frivolous yet just as often communicates meaningful ideas that resonate with the masses?
All the way from the Tudor era’s “Greensleeves” to Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” as well as other genres (the techno track “Haus of Holbein” wouldn’t be out of place at the Eurovision Song Contest), Six does it all and stands out by playing with the category’s traditions.
It could be the stadium concert-style set design, or the music that we’ve already lauded, but it seems clear that the show’s greatest strength is the cast’s performance, which is delivered with unending vigour, accuracy, and talent.
A sense of community and togetherness permeates the air of the theatre as one watches the show with a room full of other vaccinated, mask-wearing Broadway fans, an atmosphere echoed by the cast’s girl-group dynamic onstage.
When you factor in the infectious good spirit that has always been at the heart of Six, you have yourself the best way to experience the revival of the stage production. If a sad play is what you consider to be the pinnacle of Broadway, then by all means, take your pick! However, Six reigns supreme if you’re in the mood for an ecstatic appreciation of the musical medium. May it rule forever. Rank: A+