The historemix finally falls.
Photo: Joan Marcus
We are seated surrounded by the youngest audience on Broadway, all vibrant with excitement. There is a cloud of stage fog. The pink and purple lights intensify. Ooh! Do you hear a cheeky little harpsichord? Does it play… “Greensleeves”? Suddenly there is a sound like a booming and rapidly approaching pop-rock avalanche. The audience starts to pinball. And WHAMMO, there they are, six women, posing hard in the smoke and the light.
After all this time, Six: The Musical is back. Scheduled to have its official opening night on March 12, 2020, its girl-pop-wife-power assault was stopped midway through the closure. It was the last Broadway show I saw that year, and back to Six eerily resembles picking up the lost 18 month point of our interrupted life. There isn’t much noticeable difference between this 2020 event and the triumphant one in September. The ecstatic behavior of the audience is certainly the same: at the time, the fury was due to a young and primed fandom already obsessed with music (this was the tenth most released distribution recording in 2019); now it’s that fantasy plus dizzying relief. The cast even have the same reaction to the screaming reception, basking in it, letting the adulation crash against them like waves.
Six is more of a concert than a play – a Broadway performance conceived as a road show for the six wives of Henry VIII. Henry didn’t do well with these ladies: he divorced Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) and Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), inventing a whole new Church of England just to get away with it; he beheaded Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet) and Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly) for infidelity, which was a bit rich considering his own stray fly. You can’t blame her for Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), as postpartum problems killed her, and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) managed to outlive her (werk!). You lose a wife, people complain about you; if you lose a whole handful, it starts to look bad.
As an accompanying group, ladies-in-waiting, vampires, the sextet struts around in Gabriella Slade’s costumes, part Tudor, part Tina Turner in Mad Max beyond the dome of thunder, with saddlebags over hotpants, spiked vinyl stomachs, and boots that could kick 16th-century England straight into the Siege of Mars. Their microphones are suspended in glittering hip cases, and you can see their fingers twitch even when they’re not singing – all six are gunslingers ready to fight. The thing is, they’re there to fight. Six is installed as a American Idol competition, in which the wife who has suffered the most will win. To attract the favor of the public, each woman sings a song imbued with the style of one or more pop icons, such as Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne.
Each woman has a signature color and strength: Macasaet delivers a tangy commentary (her Boleyn is bitter and she can’t get over it); Mack’s boastful Anna has a stadium-sized charisma; Mueller slows down the rock-juggernaut with Jane Seymour’s sweet ballad Adele-ish (“Heart of Stone”); Pauly seduces us then warns us with his trained sidelong eye. Vocally, the first and last wives follow the show with two surprises. Hicks like the ferocious and funny Catherine of Aragon has a giant, warm sound – hoarse and dark, then brassy and stratospheric (“I hit that C, so …” she reminds us, explaining why she should win), but still imbued with a sort of amber richness. And sitting in front of Uzele when she sings like Catherine Parr is like sitting in front of a jet engine: you can really feel her hair flying out. She has a rising Whitney Houston voice, easy no matter what her register, moving and accelerating and stepping up with no sense of her own tension or transition.
Six wears its origins on its sleeve (swollen, pierced). Writers Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow are stepping out of the UK fringe – their other ‘big’ show was Hot gay time machine in tiny Trafalgar Studios – while Six paraded from the West End to Australia to Chicago to here. It started, however, at the Cambridge University Musical Theater Society as a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. The key to Six‘S delight – as directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage – is its smallness, not its obvious and delicious maximalism. The show may look like a Katy Perry show minus the fireworks on the bustier, but it still contains a fringe-y, college-y confidence, like it has to entertain a house of about 50 people, mostly your buddies, who get all of your referrals. The thing seems intimate, private joke, to the team.
Some of Moss and Marlow’s jokes require you to read the lyrics and hear them – “live in consort” as a pun on “live in concert”, for example, is (a) totally indistinguishable in a heavily mic environment and (b) not exactly a pun with a high ROI. But seen on the page (or found in an online lyric list, or picked up on repeat obsessively listening to the cast’s album), it delivers a micro-shock of cute. Tom Curran’s orchestrations include references to everything from pop hits to madrigals. It’s those little things that reward repeated encounters, memorization, chants in the bedroom. The more you play Six, the more you get Six. And that adds to the utterly delicious feeling that the creators wrote for their own enjoyment above all else.
Cheerful feminists have done comedy with this slice of history before – I would recommend “Unsolicited advice for Henry VIII’s six wives, working in their social settings and not suggesting they just invent feminism because it is anachronistic ”. But anachronism isn’t a problem for Moss and Marlow: by turning women into a supergroup, the writers can make them conclude that they don’t need Henry’s fame to build their own. They are rewriting history, waving their hands at the hellish cruelty of their lives and turning their resilience into a brotherhood we nurture. The political message is therefore a bit Easy-Bake, a bit superficial, a bit pious. Claim your power, ladies! Ignore the reality! Even if your reality is the hangman’s block!
Not that anyone goes to this show for reality, or to ponder the complexity of the story, despite Thomas Cromwell’s credentials. Point of Six is his escape. If you live at the intersection of her centers of interest and recognize a reference to the Spice Girls or Beyoncé (“Come on, ladies, let’s get into the Reformation”), your animal heart will have no choice but to jump in. rhythm. Even the sheer luminosity of Six works like color therapy. Emma Bailey’s ensemble is a simple rock scene supported by outlines of gothic LED-covered windows that change and pulsate in a cheerful display. Tim Deiling’s lights are red, purple and gold, bathing your hungry pores. The color pours into your eye holes straight into your serotonin receptors – all that heat without heat triggers something deep in your lizard brain that says, “Vacation.” So let the worries of this world go away. Heck, let the worries of 16th century England dissolve. It’s a liberation in which you don’t have to lift a finger. The queens do it for themselves.
Six: The Musical is at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.