Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 3, 2021
Six. By Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage. Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Scenic design by Emma Bailey. Costume design by Gabriella Slade. Lighting design by Tim Deiling. Sound design by Paul Gatehouse. Orchestrations by Tom Curran. Music supervision (U.S.) by Roberta Duchak. Music supervision by Joe Beighton.
Music direction by Julia Schade. Music coordination by Kristy Norter.
If anyone has the right to appropriate the hashtag-MeToo designation, it is these half dozen characters, who share the common unfortunate semi-footnote status of having been married to King Henry VIII. British school children know them better by their fates than they do by their names: Divorced (Catherine of Aragon), Beheaded (Anne Boleyn), Died (Jane Seymour), Divorced (Anna of Cleves), Beheaded (Katherine Howard), and Survived (Catherine Parr).
The queenly sextet is portrayed, respectively, by Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Abby Mueller, Brittney Mack, Samantha Pauly, and Anna Uzele. And they are here to rewrite history, or rather to put his-story in its place and to tell us her-story instead. After 500 years, not to mention the 18-plus months since the COVID shutdown halted the show's initial scheduled official opening, don't you think it's about time?
It's worth a brief pause here to admire the meteoric journey from concept to Broadway of this blend of musical and Vegas-style concert performance. Six is the brainchild of two Cambridge University students, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who quickly immersed themselves in the biographies of their characters, along with a video of a Beyoncé concert. Out of that emerged both plot and style, each of them timely and entertaining.
That was only five years ago. Well-received performances at the Edinburgh Fringe led to a UK tour and then to a highly successful West End production that is scheduled to resume next month. A North American tour quickly followed, along with a growing fan base that latched on to a studio recording faster than you can say Hamilton. The show and a wildly enthusiastic coterie of devotees dominated the 2020 BroadwayCon, which included a sing-along of the entire score and a dance workshop led by its choreographer, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Hype begets hype, and, despite the long delay, here we are!
Where other shows have attempted to parlay pre-Broadway love fests into ticket sales (remember Be More Chill?), a perfect storm of timing, talent, and luck has turned Six into a bankable Broadway phenomenon. So what do you get for your Broadway bucks and 80 minutes of your time?
The story frame could not be clearer or cleaner. It draws on the assumption that most everyone in the audience has at least a baseline knowledge of the fact that Henry VIII had six wives, and that he was in the habit of replacing them periodically during his 40-year reign. "Remember us from PBS?" asks Wife #1 (Ms. Hicks) as the royal sextet goes into their opening number, "Ex-Wives." Anything else you need to know will come out in the ensuing self-described "hist-remix" that is Six.
For much of the show, the once and future queens take turns in a competition that apparently will end with a vote by the audience to determine which of them suffered the most under the thumb and/or chopping block of the king. To this end, they each grab a mike and sell, sell, sell their individual numbers, while the others accompany them in backup singing and in powerhouse club dance moves. Both components, the songs and the dancing, combine aspects of Broadway, from Hamilton to Little Shop of Horrors, with the world of pop superstars, from Beyoncé to Ariana Grande and others. Anachronisms abound amidst the often-punny lyrics, with quick fly-by references along the lines of "The Tudor Von Trapps," "the Rolling Stones," and "Every Tudor rose has its thorns." My favorite, however, is the brilliantly compressed summary of Henry's effort to divorce Wife #1 in order to wed Anne Boleyn, as sung by Andrea Macasaet: "Tried to elope/But the Pope said nope."
Yes, some of these might make you quietly groan, but you can sense the fun that Marlow and Moss had in putting it together. It's the kind of joy that is missing in so many worked, reworked, and overworked musicals that have the life knocked out of them before they make it to Broadway. The racial diversity of the cast, the all-female band that accompanies them, and the creative team of women who serve as choreographer (Ms. Ingrouille), as music director (Julia Schade), as costume designer (Gabriella Slade, who provides the women with a look that melds Tudor with modern glitz and glamor), and as co-author/co-director (Lucy Moss) do not come off as anything remotely resembling political correctness or wily marketing. It's all just right for this show.
Toward the end of the competition, with its many moments of upstaging and one-upwomanship, when it seems to be coming to its intended conclusion (i.e., selecting a winner), the six ex-wives have an aha moment of realization. Their stories will be better served through collaborative women power and a collective feminist stance, making way for a final re-remix that leaves the audience enthusiastically clapping along and dancing their way out to the street. The invading coronavirus may have made things nerve-rackingly tenuous on Broadway, but if anything survives the onslaught it is likely to be Six, which could open up shop anywhere there is pop-star level talent and a stage to plunk them down on.