Broadway-Bound Six Comes to the American Repertory Theater
September 30, 2019 | By Gillian Brown
“Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. And tonight we are... Live!” All six of Henry VIII’s wives take to the stage to reclaim history and share their side of the story. They’re done with being reduced to “one word in a stupid rhyme.”
The sold out show, Six, premiered at the American Repertory Theater (ART) on Aug. 2 and will be on Broadway in February 2020. Audiences are in for a pseudo-rock concert, complete with dramatic spotlights, flashing strobes, and an all-female onstage band. The show follows a singing competition, with each queen competing to become leader of the band by proving they endured the worst hardships at the hands of their famously volatile ex-husband.
Photo Courtesy of The American Repertory Theater
The pop-rock musical, written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, originated at the West End with critical acclaim, earning multiple Olivier award nominations. The distinct style of each queen is influenced by a contemporary female pop icon, ranging from Beyoncé to Adele to Ariana Grande. The clever costumes fuse the styles of modern punk rock with the Tudor period, mixing miniskirts and bedazzled leather with corsets and big, puffy sleeves.
Similar to the diverse casting of 2015 Broadway sensation Hamilton or the contemporary language of 2006 rock musical Spring Awakening, Six makes otherwise distant historical figures and issues seem more relevant. It blurs the line between period piece and modern theatre.
The six queens point out that the only reason people know who they are is because of their husband. Women are too often the secondary characters to a story, only remembered for their relation to a man. Six flips this trope, making the infamous Henry VIII only a mere mention in the show rather than a full character.
Each cast member is electrifying and gives it their all with soaring harmonies that fill the theater. Adrianna Hicks brings a great energy and attitude to the sassy Catherine of Aragon. Andrea Macasaet shines as the flirty and unapologetic Anne Boleyn, who sings the dangerously catchy Don’t Lose Ur Head. Brittney Mack is unstoppable as the confident Anna of Cleves during the R&B infused “Get Down.”
Abby Mueller gives a beautifully breathtaking performance as Jane Seymour during the emotional ballad Heart of Stone. Seymour explains that she stood by her Henry VIII, not because of weakness or fear, but because of love. Despite being the one queen that wasn’t scorned by her husband, she still took ownership of her life. No matter the differences between each queen’s circumstances, they are still strong in their own right — and one woman’s experience isn’t more or less valid than another’s.
Another clear standout is All You Wanna Do, sung by Katherine Howard and played by Courtney Mack. Amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement, this song is sharply relevant. What starts out as a fun, seductive earworm becomes an angry powerhouse anthem as she begs a simple question: “When will enough be enough?” The trials of a 16th century queen seem disturbingly familiar to the injustices that still persist today. At one point Howard innocently proclaims, “It was a different time back then,” a statement that’s so painfully ironic it garners laughs from the entire audience. Each repeating chorus highlights the vicious cycle of men in power taking advantage of women. The deceivingly upbeat number reinforces the idea that we’re conditioned to accept this abuse as normal.
I Don’t Need Your Love solidifies the message of the show by denouncing toxic takedown culture. Anna Uzele plays Catherine Parr, the final wife that survived Henry VIII, and serves as the voice of reason in the musical. It is Parr who criticizes the comparative nature of the competition, lamenting, “In history I'm fixed as one of six / And without him I disappear, we all disappear.” Despite all of her accomplishments, she is only remembered for her marriage. All the queens come to the same realization that society’s patriarchal structure forces women to be dependent on men and pit women against each other. Eventually the queens rejoice in the fact that in this “historemix,” they can reclaim their agency. This empowering masterpiece highlights the cast’s stellar vocals as they confidently sing, “We're taking back control / You need to know I don't need your love.”
Not many could shine a light on the uncomfortable topic of sexism with humor, but Six completely succeeds in this endeavor. The show entertains audiences with witty banter and bubblegum pop while still addressing very serious topics. On the surface, this is a toe-tapping, head-banging pop rock musical with strong comedic punches, flashy choreography, and irresistible musical hooks — but behind all the glitter and confetti is a serious look at our society’s problematic and unfair treatment of women.
Six manages to rewrite history and give women, who are too often lost in the shadow of men, the spotlight. It showcases all different types of women, emphasizing the importance of diversity. There’s not one cookie-cutter definition of what a strong woman should be — she can be chaste or promiscuous, refined or outspoken, loyal or independent. Each queen takes full ownership of her own identity, rewriting the history that wronged them for so long.
In one of the final songs of the show, all of the queens make a triumphant declaration that will stand the test of time: “We're taking back the microphone.”