There are many reasons why March 12, 2020 will be a date we remember. For many people, it was the day that offices closed amidst the surge of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In New York City, it was also the day that Broadway announced it would be shutting down. What came next was something nobody could have predicted.
For the cast and crew of Six, March 12 was the day they were scheduled for their official opening and inaugural bow on Broadway. After becoming an immediate smash in the UK, Six was regarded as one of the crown jewels in the Great White Way’s spring 2020 season. A reexamination of history through a female lens, the show already had attracted a devoted following as a result of the success of an original studio cast album and rapid-fire word-of-mouth acclaim coming out of its preview performances.
A year-and-a-half later, Six has finally reclaimed its throne on Broadway. Not in the least slowed by a mask mandate and proof of vaccination requirements, the pop musical has made its triumphant debut to its legions of hungry and adoring fans. Running at a mere 80 minutes without an intermission, Six is the perfect show to tip your toes back into for anyone feeling apprehensive about setting foot in a Broadway theater again.
Centered around the ill-fated wives of Henry VIII, Six tells the stories of Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele). They each set out to reclaim their life stories and vie for who had the most tragic time of it all in an American Idol-style competition. On stage, they’re supported by the “Ladies in Waiting,” a terrific all-female musical ensemble.
Not dissimilar to Hamilton, the show uses radio-friendly contemporary pop music as its method of delivering herstory. With generous doses of humor and heart, every musical number is as much a social studies lesson as it is an earworm. Each song pays tribute to a range of iconic female artists from Beyoncé to Adele to Rihanna, making Six feel just as much like a stadium-sized pop concert as it does a musical. As each performer holds court with their solo numbers, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ sensational books and lyrics paint layered portraits of the personal journeys and torments each queen endured. It’s at once a scathing commentary on victimhood and a joyful celebration of the women’s divergent identities.
Carrie-Ann Ingrouille’s choreography is energetic and evokes legendary girl groups like Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are a mix of Madonna’s Madame X era with a dash of Game of Thrones and Lil Nas X’s Met Gala outfit. Directors Moss and Jamie Armitage have marvelously constructed a production that allows each cast member to shine individually while also shedding a spotlight on the massive power they embody as a whole.
With “No Way,” Catherine of Aragon laments her 24 years spent with the king. A highly religious woman, she had difficulty accepting divorce. Hicks is a marvel to behold, and her rich vocals mixed with her impeccable comedic timing should make her a shoo-in for a Tony Awards nomination next year.
You’ve never seen Ann Boleyn like this before. When you hear her name, a lot of performances may come to mind – Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl, Natalie Dormer in The Tudors, Claire Foy in Wolf Hall, and Jodie Turner-Smith in Anne Boleyn to name a few. In Six, Macaseat’s hilarious interpretation is truly singular. It’s not easy to make the first-to-be beheaded wife a sassy standout in an already funny show. Yet Macaseat does so particularly well in “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” a delightfully cheeky Lily Allen-meets-Avril Lavigne bop.
Jane Seymour belts the evocative “Heart of Stone,” the best power ballad that Pasek & Paul never wrote for Kelly Clarkson. It’s a song that any music theater afficionado will surely be adding to their default karaoke repertoire (Les Miserables star Samantha Barks will already be releasing her own take on her upcoming album). Mueller adds a rawness and vulnerability to the track that makes her performance resonate through your whole body. The masterful riffs and high note she graces the audience with at the end of the song are worth the price of admission alone.
Anna of Cleves was perhaps one of the earliest examples of someone getting rejected because they don’t look like a picture of themselves. After Jane Seymour died from giving birth to a son, Henry selected his new wife based solely on a portrait. When the two met in person, however, all plans changed. “You said that I tricked you ‘cause I didn’t look like my profile picture” Anna sings in “Get Down.” Mack brings a confidence and edge to her portrayal that audiences can’t help but cheer on. Sometimes things do work out for the best.
With “All You Wanna Do,” Katherine Howard gives us a bubble-gum flavored Britney Spears-esque number. The next-to-be beheaded wife navigates clever wordplay as she spills about her secret love affair to her distant cousin Thomas, a man who makes her feel in ways that the much older Henry does not. Charismatic and spicy, Pauly doesn’t hold back in her sultry performance.
Catherine Parr was Henry’s final wife, and the one he was with when he died. She also serves as the one who underlines the strength each queen has in reclaiming how they’re remembered. Later, Parr would become the first woman to publish an original work under her own name in England. Her Alicia Keys-inspired “I Don’t Need Your Love” is a gorgeous rallying cry of empowerment that Uzele passionately sings the hell out of.
Each solo number has its merits, but it’s the group numbers that are the most electrifying. As each of the divorced, beheaded, died, and survived gather for lush harmonies and laugh-out-loud banter, they form a powerful band of superstars that you can’t turn away from. Songs like the opener “Ex-Wives” and the titular closing track give such good “Lady Marmalade” vibes that the ladies at Moulin Rouge down the street get a run for their money.
Honestly, there’s nothing I want more from a musical than lots of women belting their faces off and Six more than delivers in that department. People lose their minds and scream at the show like it’s the pop spectacle it’s meant to be. If you just listened to the shrieking audience, it’d be no different than an Ariana Grande concert. At Six, the same rapturous applause is for an irresistible 9-song score that also happens to be razor-sharp commentary on power and abuse. It’s a brilliant feminist retelling of the lives of six women whose stories demand to be recognized individually. It’s also the most fun you’ll have on Broadway this fall.
CLICK HERE to buy tickets to Six, now playing on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
PHOTOS I JOAN MARCUS ©