“Six: The Musical” is not so much a fully formed musical but a cheeky, rollicking pop concert. Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the premise is as brilliant as the book is scant.
The wives of Henry VIII are transported to the present day in the form of a fierce, self-assertive girl band. One by one, they get their turn performing in the spotlight to vie for the title of lead singer. The criteria? Proving who had the most agonizing go of it, tangling with the dastardly “man who put a ring on it.”
Think the Spice Girls meets “The Voice” meets the History Channel. Except this is revisionist history, where the women are hell-bent on sharing their side of the story, putting Henry to shame. “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” is their mantra, telegraphing their respective fates.
“Six” is about triumph over adversity and setting the record straight, which is fitting given that the show itself was scheduled to open on Broadway in March 2020 — the very night Broadway was shuttered in the face of the Covid pandemic. The atmosphere was electric, as this was the first time most theatergoers (including this one) have been in a Broadway theater in 18 months or more.
The set, by Emma Bailey, takes its cue from pop concert backdrops, enlivened by Tim Deiling’s vigorous lighting design. If you’re looking for sumptuous tapestries, canopied bedchambers, or a guillotine for that matter, you won’t find them here.
Make no mistake, this is girl power gone full throttle. The sensational cast has been carefully selected as much for its ethnic diversity as its vocal prowess. That diversity does not extend to gender, however, as males are banished from the stage. Even the excellent band is women-only (it’s called Ladies in Waiting). Predictably, the women declare they’re not revisiting history, but “HER-story.”
At the performance I attended, the audience appeared to be comprised largely of women and quite a few gay men. Wave after wave of unbridled cheers and squeals of delight added to the pop concert vibe.
No doubt the fabulous costumes, by Gabriella Slade, are fit for rock stars. The dazzling, metal-studded outfits are an update of 16th Century garb that resembles armor, perfect for the warrior-woman themes of the show.
“Six” is at its best in the musical numbers featuring each former royal recounting how she got “unfriended.” They draw their inspiration from contemporary pop princesses like Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, and Alicia Keys. The score is a brash mix of musical styles such as bubblegum, rave, rap, soul, and hip-hop. The catchy lyrics abound with nods to pop culture. And the resolute choreography, by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, is extraordinary.
First up is Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), who, after 24 years of marriage, bitterly contested Henry’s demand for an annulment but failed. Her ode to empowerment, “No Way,” was a highlight of the show. Next was Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), instrumental in breaking England from the Church, beheaded because she could not produce an heir. “Everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will,” she chirps.
Then comes Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), who gave Henry a son but she died soon after. Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack) from Germany was chosen for her portrait and rejected when Henry met her (“I didn’t look as good as in my pic,” she sings). Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly) was beheaded, accused of premarital promiscuity.
Arguably the least known wife is Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele), who managed to survive Henry’s wrath because, well, she outlived him. And if you need a primer to keep their stories straight, there’s a handy guide in the Playbill.
Under the savvy direction of Moss and Jamie Armitage, “Six” is a potent blast of ultra entertainment that revels in femininity and ass-kicking. I can’t think of a more killer way to brush up on this captivating chapter in Tudor history.
SIX: THE MUSICAL | Brooks Atkinson Theatre | 256 W. 47th Street | Mon.,Tues., Thurs., Fri. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun. at 4 p.m. & 6 p.m. | $99-$299; SixonBroadway.com | 80 mins. with no intermission