Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Six originated in 2017 as a presentation at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with a score and book credited to both Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, and quickly leaped to larger stages. It is an inventive blend of pop music concert, reality show, and history lesson–with major emphasis on the first ingredient. Its titles refers to the six women whose claim to fame was being one of the six wives of King Henry VIII of England. In 1509, upon his ascension to the throne at the age of 18, Henry married Catherine of Aragon. They remained married for twenty-four years, but Catherine failed at the primary duty of a queen in that era: to produce a male heir. Henry had the marriage annulled–which required separating from the Roman Catholic Church and establishing the Church of England, placing himself as its head. Between 1533 and his death in 1547, he married five more times: to Anne Boleyn beheaded); Jane Seymour (died of natural causes); Anne of Cleves (divorced), here named Anna; Katherine Howard (beheaded); and Catherine Parr, who survived Henry.
These queens have no fondness for one another, squabbling over who among them was most important to Henry. The disputes soon devolve to who suffered the most at his hands, and they turn to the audience to decide (here's the reality show element), with each of them providing a pumped-up rock and roll account of the terrible circumstances of their life with Henry. Those accounts form the bulk of the show, along with their shared opening number, "Ex-Wives," shared finale "Six," and a comic number halfway through the eighty-minute show ("House of Holbein") accounting for Henry's turn to Germany to find wife number four, Anna of Cleves.
The appealing music for each of the six exes is tailored to the style of a different contemporary pop diva (helpfully identified in the program for those of us past the age of being able to differentiate Rhianna from Shakira). Catherine of Aragon presents her case in the manner of Beyoncé and Shakira, Anne Boleyn in the manner of Lili Allen and Avril Lavigne, Jane Seymour in the torch-song style of Adele (I nailed that one) and Sia, and so on. This provides interesting variations in the musical offerings and helps to differentiate the queens by temperament as well as name and tragic fate. Six is easily 90% music, but the transitional bridges from one queen's presentation to the panel of judges, er, audience, are well conceived and, again, help to keep each queen "in character."
During each of the queen's featured turns, the other five are right there, providing backup singing and dancing to create full-out productions. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's pulsating choreography animates each song, and if you think six performers on stage could hardly constitute a full-out production, you are not considering Tim Deiling's fantastic light design, constantly altering the wall of lights that, along with a series of curved tiers, is the primary element of Emma Bailey's set design, so that the fullness of the lighting makes up for the absence of a large cast ensemble.
Speaking of design, it would be hard to say enough about Gabriella Slade's fantastically conceived Tony Award winning costumes, a mix of Tudor England, Victoria's Secret, and steam punk. Sound designer Paul Gatehouse enables spoken words to be crystal clear, and most of the song lyrics to be understood as well, losing just a few words here and there without missing the gist of things. The volume is loud enough to be certifiably rock music but not so much that it becomes an assault on the ears. As for the music, the four-piece, on-stage, all-woman band led by Katie Coleman is excellent, with Caroline Moore's drum work a propelling force throughout the show.
The six performers on this tour are all new to Six, and one can only imagine that the competition for those spots was fierce, because the chosen six are fantastic. Gerianne Pérez conveys a regal air as Catherine of Aragon, by far the longest reigning of the queens, who (from the convent to which she was confined after the annulment) considered all that came after her to be pretenders. Zan Berube archly delivers the duplicitous nature identified with Anne Boleyn, along with a heavy streak of bratty sarcasm, epitomized by her saying that Henry's annulment from Catherine in order to marry her was "tots God's will." Amina Faye as Jane Seymour, claiming to be the only one Henry truly loved, pours an impassioned heart into her presentation and knocks the ballad "Heart of Stone" over the seats of the upper balcony.
Terica Marie unleashes a sexualized, empowered outlook to the freedom Henry's divorce from Anna of Cleves grants her (she gets to live in her own castle, not a convent). As Katherine Howard, Aline Mayagoitia unleashes a clear understanding of what she has to offer to the men who cross paths with her, making no exception for Henry. The story of the sixth wife, Catherine Parr, is the only one that truly creates sympathy, which Sydney Parra delivers with intelligence and conviction, and a warm, dusky voice. She questions the entire enterprise, competing over who suffered the most under Henry's hand. Why should they be only credited for having been the wife–or, as things turned out, ex-wife–of a man, rather than putting themselves out front as the person of greatest interest?
Which, of course, is exactly what Six does for its entirety. We learn little, nor are given cause to care, about Henry, but are regaled by the unique tales of each of these women and to understand how each was a victim, not only of Henry but of a patriarchal culture which has not yet completely disappeared from sight.
Six has a large following, so expect exuberant cheering and applause, more akin to a rock concert than musical theater. That is part of the fun, at least to me: being in a room where each of the women on stage earn the rabid affection of those willing to hear their story. The fact that their stories are told by way of razor-sharp songs, sung with panache, danced in synchronized bliss, dressed in a goth fantasy, and lit like a fever dream helps more than a little. Six has a narrow range of what it sets out to do, but in that it succeeds gloriously.
Six runs through November 6, 2022, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street, Saint Paul MN. Tickets from $56.00 - $178.50. Ticket availability is limited. For tickets and information call 651-224-4222 or visit www.ordway.org. For information on the tour, visit www.sixthemusical.com.
Words, Music and Book: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss; Directors: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage; Choreographer: Carrie-Anne Ingrouille; Scenic Design: Emma Bailey; Costume Design: Gabriella Slade; Lighting Design: Tim Deiling; Sound Design: Paul Gatehouse; Orchestrations: Tom Curran; Music Supervision: Joe Beighton and Roberta Duchak; Conductor: Katie Coleman; Associate Conductor: Lena Gabrielle; Associate Choreographer: Eliza Ohman; Casting: Tara Rubin Casting, Peter Van Dam, CSA; Production Management: Bryan Lynch; Production Stage Manager: Sara Gammage.
Cast: Zan Berube (Anne Boleyn), Amina Faye (Jane Seymour), Terica Marie (Anna of Cleves), Aline Mayagoitia (Katherine Howard), Sydney Parra (Catherine Parr), Gerianne Pérez (Catherine of Aragon), Alternates: Aryn Bohannon, Jana Larell Glover, Taylor Pearlstein, Cecilia Snow.