ARAGON. BOLEYN. SEYMOUR. CLEVES. HOWARD. PARR. Remember their names because these ladies are set for world domination.
“Six,” the thoroughly smashing pop musical about the wives of Henry VIII is currently playing in London to sold-out, rapturous crowds. Written by wunderkind Toby Marlow (he’s 23 and “Six” was written when he was only 21) and buoyantly directed by Lucy Moss, the show is a fast-paced romp through the marital history of the last Tudor king. It made the jump across the Atlantic where it will play Chicago and Boston prior to a Broadway opening in the spring of 2020.
If you aren’t familiar with his history, Henry VIII started the Church of England after a spat with the Catholic pope, who wouldn’t give him an annulment to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Her sin? She failed to produce a male heir. So, he started his own church, obtained a divorce, and proceeded to marry Anne Boleyn, whom he later beheaded in favor of his third wife, Jane Seymour. Rinse and repeat for a total of six wives.
Clocking in at a quick 75 minutes, the format of the show is a spirited concert by which each of Henry’s ex-wives takes the mic to make the case for why she should be remembered as the best wife – except that to win, each must tell the worst tale. At the performance I saw, Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon), Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr) played the six queens – and each couldn’t have been more perfect. Ms. McIntosh was particularly delightful as the Nicki Minaj-inspired German princess and Ms. Atkinson brought down the house with her sexy take on Henry’s fifth wife–and the second one he beheaded.
The score is infectious (I dare you to try to listen to the cast album just once) and Marlow’s lyrics are snappy, smart and anachronistic. They are peppered with the jargon of today’s youth. At one point, Cleves asks her ladies “to get in re-formation.” No worries, even if you don’t know that the lyric is a reference to Beyonce, you’ll still have a good time. The choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille is contemporary and inventive and helps to establish the rock star vibe, which are complimented by the arena-style lighting and slick costumes.
“Six” is fun, sassy and audacious–a perfect show for the Katy Perry/Lady Gaga generation. Underneath its bedazzled exterior exists an odd but very entertaining form of feminism. It’s a smart show that uses its peppy, yet cheeky songs as anthems for girl power. Letting the dead Queens rise from the shadows and giving them their moment in the spotlight is a crafty device for a historical musical and Marlow and Moss manage to create theatrical magic. The show’s origins were modest: it was written while the creators were still in school and only has eight songs and no traditional book scenes. But it has already become a global phenomenon with an enormous following of cosplaying devotees. Current productions include London, New York, Boston, Australia, and two tours in the UK and the US. It was recently announced that “Six” would play on Norwegian Cruises starting in the fall of 2019. Its legions of fans have made the cast album the second most streamed in its genre, right behind “Hamilton” and it has inspired the addition of official sing-along performances to its London schedule. Will Broadway lose its head for “Six”? Only time will tell but it certainly has all the markings of a massive blockbuster.