Six review: Broadway's high-energy history remix reigns supreme
"Listen up, let me tell you a story — a story that you think you've heard before..."
You might be familiar with King Henry VIII and his six wives from history class and various film and TV renditions (Showtime's The Tudors, Natalie Portman's The Other Boleyn Girl, PBS miniseries Wolf Hall) but Broadway's latest glitter-bomb musical Six brings the queens to life in a whole new way — live "in consort." (Get it?)
Created by then-Cambridge University undergraduates Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (who directs the Broadway production along with Jamie Armitage), Six initially premiered in 2017 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There, it caught the attention of producers and went on to launch productions in the U.K. and abroad, as well as a cast album, all amassing a royal court of devoted fans. A Broadway coronation was to be next, but the musical's original opening night — March 12, 2020 — was the very same day theaters were forced to close their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, more than a year and a half later, the queens are finally ascending to the Broadway stage, replete with sparkly costumes, vocal runs that defy the laws of physics, and synchronized choreography tighter than a 16th-century corset.
Structured as a concert-turned-singing competition, Six sees 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 sharing their sides of the story. There are no Henry sightings here; the ex-wives are fed up with being reduced to "just one word in a stupid rhyme" (You know the one: "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived"). So they've formed a women-tell-all girl group, and want the audience to help determine who should be crowned lead singer based on who has the most tragic backstory — a move borrowed from every televised singing competition ever.
Featuring an all-female cast and equally rocking band (the "ladies in waiting"), the musical's 80-minute runtime is bursting with cheeky wordplay and radio-worthy bops and ballads. Those songs run the pop genre gamut, with each of the six drawing inspiration from modern-day music stars: Catherine of Aragon is a mix of Beyoncé and Shakira, Anne Boleyn channels Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne, Jane Seymour evokes Adele and Sia, Anna of Cleves is the German lovechild of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, Katherine Howard turns out a blend of Britney Spears and Ariana Grande (complete with a high ponytail), and Catherine Parr is an Alicia Keys-Emeli Sandé mash-up. And what better medium for a musical about women who have much more depth than they're given credit for than pop music — a genre often considered fun and frivolous, but just as often conveys profound messages that resonate with the masses?
Six does it all and stands out by playing with the category's conventions and seamlessly sampling everything from the Tudor era's "Greensleeves" to Demi Lovato's "Sorry Not Sorry" while also mixing in other genres (the techno track "Haus of Holbein" wouldn't be out place at the Eurovision Song Contest). There are riotous numbers like Anne Boleyn's cheeky "Don't Lose Ur Head" and Cleves' boisterous "Get Down," a tearjerker in Seymour's power ballad "Heart of Stone," and unbelievable high notes in songs like Aragon's kiss-off track "No Way." Then there's Howard's "All You Wanna Do," which deftly introduces a #MeToo moment guised as an upbeat dance banger, as the queen reflects on her overly-sexualized youth in one of the most powerful moments of the show.
In the musical's final number, when the queens invite the crowd to their feet to clap and dance along, it feels like an actual encore at an actual pop concert. (The girl sitting next to me at last Friday's performance should get a crown for managing to stay seated as long as she did.) That could be due to the show's stadium-concert-like staging, or the music we've already praised, but it seems the crowning jewel is most definitively the cast's performance — delivered throughout with inexhaustible energy, precision, and talent.
Sitting in a theater packed with fellow fully-vaccinated, mask-wearing Broadway lovers brings a sense of solidarity and camaraderie to the atmosphere, a vibe mirrored on-stage by the cast's girl-group dynamic. Add to that the joy that's always been the DNA of this production, and Six truly is the top ticket to celebrate the return of the live stage show. Look, if a somber play is your idea of Broadway's best, then by all mean, enjoy! But if you're up for a euphoric celebration of the musical medium, Six is queen of the castle. Long may it reign. Grade: A