By Helen Sullivan
Image: Joan Marcus
Six has not had the most conventional path to open on Broadway, to say the least. Hours before the show was set to open, Broadway was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Family and friends were in town to celebrate, gifts were ready at the theatre for cast and crew, and the after party was all booked for the show’s triumphant opening. Until, finally, 18 months later, Six was ready to take their crowning glory on Broadway. The show resumed previews at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on September 17th to sold-out crowds and standing ovations. Audiences were anxious to see the queens back and it was clear why.
Six follows the six wives of Henry VIII of England in a modern setting where they all come together and form a pop group, before debating which among them had the worst fate. Henry VIII’s wives have continued to fascinate people for generations. Many films, TV shows and stage productions have been made recounting the stories of how each queen came to marry Henry and their impact on British history. So what makes this musical different from the others? For one, it is told from their perspective. The narratives have often been one-sided and told from the perspective of Henry and his advisors. This musical challenges the notion that the queens would not be remembered if not for Henry and instead suggests that Henry would not be remembered if not for them.
The writers of the show, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, initially wrote the show as a submission for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while they were students at Cambridge. Six has since become a global phenomenon with millions streaming the soundtrack and productions in three countries as well as cruise lines. It is easy to see why it has become such a massive success even before making its official Broadway debut.
The score is infectious and each song has a very distinct sound with each queen’s song being inspired by different contemporary pop stars. The cast recording has become the second most-streamed musical theatre album, behind Hamilton. The queens go in order of their marriages and each takes the microphone to present their case. Catherine of Aragon, played by Adrianna Hicks, sings of how she remained loyal to Henry VIII despite all the lies and betrayal and how she was not going to just walk away in a Beyonce-inspired number.
Anne Boleyn, usually seen as the temptress who lured Henry away from Aragon, sings about how she did not intend to cause chaos and even makes a reference to her father who encouraged her to get close to the king. Boleyn, played by Andrea Masceat, jokes about the different controversial things she said that played a role in her beheading.
In a contrast of tone, Jane Seymour sings a heartbreaking ballad about her love for Henry and not being able to see her son grow up. Seymour, played by Abby Mueller, is seen as a strong woman who did not oversee Henry’s flaws and did not stay due to naivety or weakness but out of love. Mueller’s ballad is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the show.
Anna of Cleves, played by Brittany Mack, is chosen but gets rejected by the king for not living up to her portrait. Cleves first tries to make her situation sound tragic but finally sings about all the riches and palace she received after the marriage was annulled. In a crowd-pleasing song, Mack grabs the attention of everyone in the room with more energy than should be humanly possible.
Katherine Howard starts with a monologue that discredits all of the other queens’ reasons why they should win the competition before launching into high energy but heartbreaking number about how she was groomed by men since thirteen and finishes in sobs with her head up. Howard, played by Samantha Pauly, further acknowledges how young the queen was when she was abused by men much older than her.
The survivor of the group, Catherine Parr, played by Anna Uzele, is reluctant to tell her story but eventually begins her song by writing a letter to the love of her life, Thomas Seymour, who she was forced to give up in order to marry the king and how her role as a woman in Tudor England did not allow her to have a choice. She withdraws from the competition as her story is more than being the wife who survived Henry. Parr inspires the queens to believe that they are more than just “one of six” and reminds them they are the reason Henry VIII is remembered. The queens come together in “Six” where they rewrite the endings of their stories to give themselves happy endings.
What makes this show special is its unique style. It is presented as a pop concert. The set, designed by Emma Bailey, is minimal to focus on the queens and the all-female band, known as the Ladies in Waiting and led by Julia Schade, the pianist, and musical director. The Ladies in Waiting are a major part of the show and are named after some of the real ladies in waiting who served the six wives. The direction by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage and the choreography by Carrie- Anne Ingrouille add to the concert feel of the show with the high energy choreography similar to a pop concert and the fourth wall immediately being broken as soon as the queens walk on stage. The audience is a part of the show from the beginning with everyone cheering as loudly as if they were at a real-life concert.
One of my favorite parts of the show is the amazing costumes designed by Gabrielle Slade who also designed the costumes for the most recent Spice Girls tour. Each costume combines Tudor styles with popstar elements. Howard’s skirt is not unlike what you might see Ariana Grande in on her tours with the high pony completing the look. Cleves has a brilliant costume reveal that truly took my breath away. It was a surprise for the Broadway production and I think my jaw dropped the first time I saw it. The costumes were modified following the pre-Broadway tour but still give the same feelings as the originals and you can see them sparkling from the very back of the theatre.
Six is also known for its devoted fans, better known as the Queendom. The fandom only grew in size during the pandemic and the anticipation of its Broadway debut grew. Not only is there support for the principal cast but also the alternates have received quite a few fans of their own who anxiously await cover debuts in the hopes they may see one of them. During the first preview run in 2020, I ran to the theatre with less than an hour’s notice to see Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert, Mallory Maedke, and Courtney Mack’s Broadway debuts. I was also lucky enough to see the newest alternate Keirsten Hodgens as Parr last week. If there’s any doubt, it seems certain the fans will ensure the show runs for some time.
Six is not only the show of the year but the party of the year. It’s impossible not to have a fun time and do not be surprised if you find yourself listening and singing along to the soundtrack and recreating the choreography. After 19 months, Six finally gets to take their rightful place on the throne of Broadway and I expect it to have a lengthy reign.