What began as a student show in a 100-seat venue during the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival has become an international sensation, first on London’s West End, then in regional and touring productions, and now on Broadway, with a post-modern pop-culture take on the women who had the misfortune of being wed to England’s maniacal ignominious Tudor King Henry VIII. In SIX, the concept musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, playing an open-ended run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, the 16th-century Queens have come back to life as a sextet of glittering badass rock stars, singing of their ill-fated lives (“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”) from the updated perspective of young 21st-century women embracing fame and girl power.
Co-directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, the fast-paced 80-minute mostly sung-through show is presented in the high-energy high-decibel format of a rock concert, with the reimagined singing royals interacting with the audience, sharing the horrors they experienced, competing for our sympathy over who suffered the most, and ultimately rejecting the “patriarchal structure” by validating and reclaiming their now empowered identities outside of their fateful marriages. And it’s all done through nine vibrant fact-filled and fun-filled original numbers (with orchestrations by Tom Curran; music supervision and vocal arrangements by Joe Beighton; and US music supervision by Roberta Duchak).
Using the language, expressions, speech patterns, and intonations of today’s youth, a diverse all-female cast conjures the diverse characters of the Queens – Adrianna Hicks as Catherine of Aragon, Andrea Macasaet as Anne Boleyn, Brittney Mack as Anna of Cleves, and Anna Uzele as Catherine Parr, with Mallory Maedke filling in for Abby Mueller as Jane Seymour and Courtney Mack for Samantha Pauly as Katherine Howard at the performance I attended. Each one “totes” embodies a different personality type and musical style modelled after a different Pop Princess, from Beyoncé to Britney Spears, Adele to Alicia Keys (program notes in the Playbill give a quick biographical summary of the real-life women and their pop-music inspirations in the show). All rule the stage with their powerhouse spotlight vocals and character-defining current moves (with dynamic spot-on choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille), tight group harmonies and hilarious call-outs of each other in their contest for who had it the hardest.
SIX’s rapid-fire jokes, both visual and verbal, include witty light-hearted send-ups of today’s obsession with cell phones, selfies, and striking poses, sexual innuendo, and morbid gallows humor about two of the wives losing their heads – which, though their executions occurred half a millennium ago, still comes “too soon” for me, in light of the subjugation and brutalization of women that persist in today’s world. So how’s that for a really badass feminist perspective? “Sorry, not sorry.”
The all-female cast is backed by a hard rocking all-female band, aptly named the Ladies in Waiting (conductor Julia Schade on keyboard, Michelle Osbourne on bass, Kimi Hayes on guitars, and Elena Bonomo on drums), that appears on stage in costume and in character. The cast and musicians are supported by a smart eye-popping design that synthesizes the Tudor era with our time, in Emma Bailey’s present-day concert-stage set, with pointed trefoil Gothic arch windows; Gabriella Slade’s contemporary glam costumes, with such historicizing details as richly decorated luxurious fabrics, ruffs, square necklines, puffed sleeves, and conical silhouettes; colorful arena lighting by Tim Deiling; and expert sound by Paul Gatehouse.
For those who enjoy their Broadway musicals remixed with the rock and pop genres of today and appreciate historical narratives re-envisioned from a new perspective (with the eye-rolling tongue-in-cheek comment, “It was a different time back then . . .”), SIX offers just that, by a female-centric cast and team that shift history to herstory.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.
SIX plays an open-ended run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $159-499), call the box office at (212) 719-4099, or go online. Audience members must show proof of being fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine to attend and must be masked.