Six Review. Wronged Queens in a Broadway Musical of Sonic Wave Feminism

“Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.” The first six words of “Six” sum up the fate of each of King Henry VIII’s six wives. The first six minutes of “Six” (the length of the song “Ex Wives”) preview everything else we can expect from this first new musical to open on Broadway in 19 months: “Six” promises a cheeky history lesson as if performed by a spicy girl group at an arena pop rock concert.

The start of the concert is a high-energy spectacle, loud, busy and electrifying. And “Six” remains high-energy and loud for most of its 80 minutes, with a six-member cast, backed by an all-female band, that’s charismatic and indefatigable. But the electricity winds up feeling static. 

After that opening number, each of the six women gets the spotlight one by one. Each is devastatingly fit, in strong voice, and bedecked in Gabriella Slade’s costumes that cleverly interpret Tudor era style armor and bodices with a sexy Heavy Metal/S&M aesthetic. Each portrayal manages to be memorable, despite the challenges: Even if the creative team hadn’t conceived the characters as a girl group, how much of the individual personalities has been retained about these six historical figures from the 16th century?  I mean, three of them were named some version of Catherine, and two of them a version of Anne. 

One by one, the Catherines and the Annes and Jane tell their stories in the chronological order of their marriage, each one given a song in the style of a different pop diva.  The conceit is not just that this is a pop concert, but that the singing queens decide to compete against one another in something like a reality TV show contest: They will tell their stories to prove they deserve the title of “the Queen who was dealt the worst hand/The Queen with the most hardships to withstand.”

Adrianna Hicks is up first, telling the story (what the characters call the “histo-remix”) of the first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who came from Spain to wed England’s heir apparent, Henry’s older brother, Arthur. But Arthur died shortly afterward, so Catherine married Henry. They remained husband and wife for almost a quarter of a century. But the king was disappointed that Catherine did not give him a male heir; her only surviving child was female. So Henry sought to annul the marriage, and marry one of the women with whom he had been cavorting, Anne Boleyn. Hicks sings  a Beyonce-like number, “No Way” 

Aragon: Suddenly he wants to annul our marriage
Move some side-chick into my palace 
And move me into a convent
Now, I don’t think I’d look that good in a wimple. So I’m like… NO WA
Y.

…You must think that I’m crazy
You wanna replace me, baby, there’s ….

Chorus (the rest of the queens): N-n-n-n-n-n-no way 

Aragon: If you think for a moment
I’d grant you annulment, just hold up, there’s 

Chorus: N-n-n-n-n-n-no way 

Now, as you may well know, Henry’s decision to leave his first wife changed the course of world history, since Pope Clement VII refused to allow the annulment, which prompted Henry to launch the English Reformation, and dissolve Catholic convents and monasteries. This history is certainly well-known to Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the British citizens, still in their twenties, who wrote “Six” while students at Cambridge University. (and also to Americans who’ve caught“The Man for All Seasons” or “Wolf Hall”) . But the word “Reformation” is used just once in “Six,” as a pun  (“Okay ladies, let’s get in Reformation.”) There are, after all, six wives and nine songs to get through in 80 minutes.

“Six,” in other words, is no “Hamilton,” despite some superficial similarities, such as anachronisms (“Six” is overloaded with social media lingo), a diverse cast, and the use of the past to suggest current issues — in Hamilton, immigration; in “Six,” the (continued) power imbalance between men and women.

Indeed, the musical proclaims its feminism so loudly that it’s less fourth wave than sonic wave. But it feels more for show than out of conviction. Unlike “Hamilton,” where hip hop culture is placed into service on behalf of history; in “Six,” history is placed into service on behalf of pop culture. An example: Andrea Macasaet, who is making an impressive Broadway debut in the role of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife and the first that he decapitated, makes a lot of beheading jokes. (It’s hard to imagine any dueling jokes in “Hamilton.”)

That “Six” pops on the surface, without much happening underneath, seems unlikely to disturb theatergoers cooped up for so long and ready for a good time, especially those who are used to rock concerts.  Originally slated to open on March 12, 2020, the very day the Governor shut down Broadway theaters, “Six” signals “Broadway is Back” in a heightened way. This is in part thanks to Tim Deiling’s flashy rock concert lighting and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s thrilling fast-paced communal (nearly military) choreography, but also to the familiar over-the-top effects of a Big Broadway Show — dramatic stage smoke, bright lights directly in your face, and confetti in your hair as you leave the theater.

Six
Brooks Atkinson Theater
running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
tickets: $109-$869 ($30 lottery)
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss(
Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Emma Bailey (Set Design), Gabriella Slade (Costume Design), Tim Deiling (Lighting Design), and Paul Gatehouse (Sound Design). The score features orchestrations by Tom Curran with music supervision and vocal arrangements by Joe Beighton and U.S. Music Supervision by Roberta Duchak
Cast: Adrianna Hicks as Catherine of Aragon, Andrea Macasaet as Anne Boleyn, Abby Mueller as Jane Seymour, Brittney Mack as Anna of Cleves, Samantha Pauly as Katherine Howard, and Anna Uzele as Catherine Parr.  Standbys: Keirsten Nicole Hodgens, Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert, Courtney Mack and Mallory Maedke.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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