Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent review of Bandstand
That musical, Six, was the best show I saw of the over 20 plays and musicals in the three days I was at the Fringe Festival that year and it has gone on to become a huge hit, with productions running in London, Broadway, Australia, and on tour. The tight harmonies, smart lyrics, and sheer magnitude of girl power I witnessed five years ago in that hotel conference room are even more clear now. While not perfect, as the book has a few flaws, but with the addition of impressive lighting and outlandish costumes that befit the pop/rock girl group concert style of the show, and an exceptional cast, the national tour of Six is an energetic, infectious, and fun, crowd pleaser of a musical.
"Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived" is a rhyme often taught in middle schools for students to remember the order of Henry VII's six wives and what their individual fates were. Cambridge students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss used that rhyme as the basis for Six, which uses a collection of pop songs to tell the stories of King Henry VIII's wives as they compare the struggles and hardships they each endured in their lives as a competition to see who suffered the most. Each wife sings a song about her hardships with the winner being crowned the queen of their girl group.
Marlow and Moss have modeled each wife and the songs they sing on different pop stars, ranging from such well-known singers as Adele to Beyonce, Brittany Spears and Rihanna, and the score is a non-stop parade of energetic pop tunes with catchy and fun lyrics. If you aren't familiar with these women, dont worry, as the program includes notes on each wife and also lists the pop stars who serve as their "queenspiration." The notes are a nice addition since the book doesn't really provide much depth to the women beyond some standard facts you could quickly glean from a glance at their Wikipedia pages.
Also, while the book is peppered with fun pop culture references and a wink to how some of the things the six wives suffered are still situations or obstacles women have to deal with in our current male-dominated world, it often panders to the female stereotype of back-stabbing and bitchy women engaged in a power struggle. Fortunately, it does portray all six wives as strong and independent women who are also defiant and unapologetic and who realize it's better if they come together to celebrate their shared experiences and reaffirm themselves as more than just the suffering wives of Henry VIII.
While Six is technically a concert with a few bits of dialogue to link the songs together, so fans of more traditional book musicals may wish for a more in-depth plot, Moss and Jamie Armitage's direction does manage to delineate each wife fairly clearly, but they aren't able to do much to help the clunkier parts in the script to stick out less. The costumes by Gabriella Slade are in distinct colors, which also helps to distinguish each wife, with fun touches such as neck chockers for the two wives who were beheaded. The choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille is superb. It plays off of traditional girl group steps, and the distinct and varied moves are danced exceptionally well by the entire cast.
As Marlow and Moss have established in their musical, the individuals playing the wives are predominantly female or non-binary and of any ethnicity. While this decision depicts these factual women in much the same way that Hamilton uses BIPOC actors to portray white historical characters, it doesnt come across as trying to be a copy of the way that show was cast since the ethnicity of the individual playing each wife isnt always the same across the current productions.
This is the second stop for the second national touring cast and all six women in the cast are sublime; it's hard to believe they've only been performing this show together since the tour launched in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Gerianne Pérez, Zan Berube, Amina Faye, Terica Marie, Aline Mayagoitia, and Sydney Parra all have exceptional singing voices and do excellent work breathing life into these actual women to make them understandable, distinct and strong. Each gets a solo to show off their singing prowess and all six have powerful voices that soar with sustained high notes, clear tones, and refined control. While each number is a highlight and all of the cast know how to ensure the humor in their comical lyrics get big laughs, it's Amina Fayes ballad, "Heart of Stone," that stops the show with its simple and direct lyrics and Faye's powerful delivery of it.
Backing up the wives is a four-piece, all female, onstage band that is exceptional in their musical abilities. The cast not only deliver searing and soaring vocals but also provide continual back-up harmonies for their fellow wives' solos that are tight and lush. Emma Bailey's set may be static but in combination with the rich lighting design from Tim Deiling it creates an ever-changing backdrop of colors and designs. The sound design by Paul Gatehouse ensures the notes from the band and singers are bright and clear.
While lovers of traditional musicals may find Six not much more than a concert with a minimal plot, and the book has some issues, the wives are intriguing to watch and the music is catchy and upbeat. Six may not be perfect, but it sure is a fun, fresh and empowering retelling of history as these women reclaim their stories and come together in support of each other.
Six runs through October 9, 2022, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.asugammage.com or by call 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit sixonbroadway.com/north-american-tours.
Music, lyrics and book: Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss