by Carol Rocamora . . .
“Divorced, beheaded, died (ba-dum-dum)
Divorced, beheaded, survived (bah-dum-dum)”
You recognize that couplet – of course you do. You learned it long ago in your college course on English Tudor history. Well, guess what? Believe it or not, it’s now the intro to the sassiest, sauciest, smartest new Broadway musical this season – the new pop phenomenon called SIX.
That number (of course) refers to none other than the wives of the British King Henry VIII (1491-1547). It’s the hottest idea for a musical since Hamilton – that ground-breaking wonder that rewrote American history for modern times and captured the spirit of a new generation.
But in the case of SIX, as its narrators describe it, they’re rewriting HER-story. Things didn’t go too well for the ill-fated queens of that murderous macho-king. So now they’re calling for a historical “remix”, retelling their tales with a neo-feminist vengeance.
SIX is the brainchild of two exuberant, talented young Cambridge grads, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who began fashioning their pop- musical revue while still at university. It was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017, made a North American tour, and took London’s West End by storm. The show was scheduled to open on Broadway on March 12, 2021 – when, hours before the curtain, the lights went dark in response to the pandemic. At last, it’s back, exploding onto Broadway with exuberant energy!
Marlow and Moss have chosen a format of storytelling and concert performance. Curtain up on a splashy concert stage (designed by Emma Bailey, neo-lit by Tim Deiling) , featuring a six-member girl group in sassy black and spangly mock-Tudor (the contemporized costumes are by Gabriella Slade), backed up by a dynamite four-piece girl band, “The Ladies in Waiting” (guitars, electric bass, keyboard, percussions). The structure of the evening is that of a contest (“we’re taking you to Court”, the ensemble announces.) After their explosive opening number (“Ex-Wives”), the format of the evening is defined. Each queen will tell her story, after which the audience will “vote” on who had the rawest deal, and, therefore, deserves to be remembered the most.
What follows (if you can hear it over the audience screaming and cheering) is a song from each of the wives, based on “Queenspirations”, namely songs inspired by the style of a contemporary female rock chanteuse. In historical chronological order, first comes Catherine of Aragon, played by a dynamite Adrianna Hicks, singing “No Way” in the style of Beyonce and Shakira. Next comes Anne Boleyn – a wickedly playful Andrea Macasaet, singing “Don’t Lose Ur Head” in the style of Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne (her well-known demise gives her the best running joke of the group – “Everybody chill/It’s just God’s will!”) Third comes Jane Seymour, played by Abby Mueller, singing a sweet ballad called “Heart of Stone” a la Adele and Sia.
Next, the six Queens sing “Haus of Holbein,” a riotous song referring to the artist who made Henry furious when Anne of Cleves finally showed up from Germany for their arranged marriage and wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the painter portrayed her. Brittney Mack is sensational as Anne, and her song “Get Down” emulates the styles of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. “I’m the queen of the castle/Get down you dirty rascal!” she taunts, backed up by the Queens decked out neon-green sunglasses. It’s an outrageous number, and it’s a show-stopper. After her comes Katherine Howard (“no one remembers her bland and uneventful life,” comments Anne Boleyn), played by Courtney Mack (on the evening I attended), singing “All You Wanna Do” in the style blending Ariana Grande and Britney Spears. Finally, there’s Catherine Parr, the queen who outlasted Henry. She’s played by Anna Uzele, singing “I Don’t Need Your Love” in the style of Alicia Keys and Emeli Sande.
Needless to say, the evening is irresistible in its originality, ingenuity, and lovable outrageousness. The direction (Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage) and choreography (Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) are sensational, the orchestrations are terrific, and – truth be told – it’s a worthwhile history refresher. In your program, you’ll find “A Little Bit of Her-Story”, featuring a bio on each of the queens, including what they’re remembered for and other “fun facts” (like the professional life of Catherine Parr, the first woman in England to publish books under her own name. How’s that for a valuable feature of feminist history!)
Kudos go to the sensational all-girl band onstage – Julia Schade (conductor/keyboard), Michelle Osbourne (bass), Kimi Hayes (guitars), Elena Bonomo (drums).
This fabulous evening ends – not with a competition, but rather a shared insight. “We might just be remembered for being married to the same man,” the Queens realize. That moment propels them to a new level of triumphant solidarity. “We have a voice!” the Queens rejoice, together. “This is our show!” “We’re one of a kind!” What fun the cast and creators must have had in creating this new pop-culture phenomenon! No wonder it’s the second most streamed pop album in the world.
SIX: The Musical, by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, now on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Photos: Joan Marcus