Strutting strong, arms akimbo and ready for a royal rumble, the sextet of cheeky spouses of King Henry VIII take to the stage in triumph — not just over the much-married monarch who did them wrong, but also in celebration of the deferred Broadway bow of the musical “Six,” shut down by the pandemic last year just hours before its scheduled opening night.
But these ladies have been waiting for centuries even, ready to give some perspective and personality to their reductive footnote in history, as echoed in the schoolyard chant: “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.” You can now add “gloriously revived” thanks to this Brit import that has gathered passionate followers as the show made its journey from university lark to viral juggernaut to, finally, celebratory West End and now Broadway musical.
This fast-paced show — it’s just 80 minutes long — places these Old Spice Girls in a competitive pop-rock concert — think “The SiX Factor” — with the wife who is judged as having suffered the most to be elevated to lead singer. It may not be much of a compensation for their pains — especially for those who have been literally on the chopping block. But for theatergoers, this show (by twenty-somethings Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage) is as sharp and shiny as a sequined stiletto heel, and couldn’t have come at a better time.
There’s the spirit-lifting energy of an arena concert, the humor and sass of a special sisterhood, and a ton of biographical exposition easily received in rap and snap — and which might evoke another recent historical musical. Just as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” made us hyper-aware of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” this show now gives voice to these Tudor #MeToos, presenting a feminist — both proto and post — version of “herstory.” As one character says, “History’s about to get over-throned.”
The creative team did it by simply going gaga — and Gaga, too, not to mention Beyoncé, Adele, Nicki, Rihanna, Ariana, Alicia and Britney. They’re the wide-ranging musical inspirations in this non-stop remix, choreographed with Super Bowl Halftime verve by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Gabriella Slade’s dazzling costumes also bring bling, wit and character detail (and sly icon and historical references) to each of these wonder women as they strut around a concert-court set by Emma Bailey, under Tim Deiling’s blazing lighting.
Backed by a red-hot, all-female band (of six, natch), each member of this ex-wives club gets a solo to make their case for themselves in a musical style that reflects their story, perspective and passion.
Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) shows her fierce determination (and killer pipes) in the power-pop number “No Way.” Andrea Macasaet is a constant hoot as Anne Boleyn, especially in a lollipop of a song, “Don’t Lose Ur Head.” Few can throw a snarky aside — or get more laughs out of a beheading — better than Macasaet.
Brittney Mack’s Anna of Cleves playfully admits that perhaps not all the spouses suffered equally — or in her case, at all. In “Get Down,” her hot-jazz number that would feel right at home on “Pose,” she demonstrates that having a prenup just might be a girl’s best friend.
Audience interest in this competitive concert concept could easily wear out its welcome but the musical variety, bite-sized storytelling and unstoppable performances keep the entertainment level high as the musical subversively builds in emotional depth.
As Henry’s sole loving wife, Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller) makes it real with an alt-version of marriage as she presents her case with the power ballad “Heart of Stone.” Samantha Pauly’s Katherine Howard seems to keep things light and sexy at first in her narrative number, but the dark side of desire soon emerges in her stunning “All You Wanna Do.”
When the accumulating emotions become too real, Anna Uzele’s Catherine Parr — the final wife — decides simply to step out of the game, the glitz and the silliness, giving the show a deeper dive into the power plays she experienced in “I Don’t Need Your Love” and inspiring the others to see themselves in their own light, not Henry’s. With renewed spirit, they break free of expectations and start to change the course of history, just a bit, by rewriting their stories with happier ever-afters, at least for themselves.
Historians might take issue at this decision to shift spotlight away from the crown, and others might dismiss the concert format of the musical as easy entertainment pickings. Still, there’s much to admire and love. It may not be Masterpiece Theater, but this “Six” is a solid “10” for joy.
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