‘Six’: They Run This Mutha (Yeah!)
Remember the first time you saw your favorite artist in concert? The tingling sensation that took over your body, the thrill of being in community with strangers, the expectation that your favorite songs will be performed. Going to Six feels exactly like that.
Except, this time the artists in question have been brought back from beyond the grave. Not literally, of course, there is no hint of the macabre in the musical. Instead, the magic happens as the six wives of Henry VIII are given the chance to reclaim their history. To take the patriarchy by the balls.
Structured like a concert, the immensely witty production opens with a bang. The six former queens introduce themselves before letting audience members know the evening will conclude with one of them becoming the bandleader. The figurative crown will be given to the queen who endured the worst life under Henry.
One by one they sing their story, hoping to gain our sympathy and claim the throne. Considering a couple of them were beheaded by their ruthless husband, one would expect a night of morbid drama. But the opposite happens instead, through infectious tunes and soul-stirring ballads they become empowered. As if Beyoncé had traveled back in time five centuries to remind them the world was theirs to run.
Long before arriving in New York, the musical with book, music, and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, became a cultural sensation. It’s been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify and Apple Music, and a search on Etsy leads to thousands of products inspired by the show’s feminist message. The musical premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, then went on a British tour before transferring to the West End in 2019, and upon arriving in New York it fulfills a cycle similar to the growth of the pop stars it pays tribute to.
Marlow and Moss show off their pop savviness by referencing the artists they grew up listening to and commenting on the way in which mass media often rob them of their humanity in the need to create archetypes. Their Anne Boleyn (the hilarious Andrea Macaset) is infused with the irreverence of Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen, Queen Bey is channeled through Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks, a true force of nature) and their Catherine Parr (a moving Anna Uzele) belts an Alicia Keys’ inspired number that brings the theater to its feet.
Jane Seymour (a scene-stealing Abby Mueller) is given a Girls Aloud-type ballad that will surely become an anthem of the broken-hearted for decades to come. Through Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly exuding fierceness), the composers explore the way in which female artists are sexualized to a point where anything other than that temptress image is rejected by the public.
In Anna of Cleves (a delightful Brittney Mack) the writers find a larger-than-life rap star–Nicki Minaj comes to mind for people of a certain age, while others will undoubtedly see Megan Thee Stallion. Marlow and Moss skillfully combine pop references with nods to musical genres popular five hundred years ago, making the show the most entertaining history lesson on stage. And yes, I’ve seen Hamilton.
What’s remarkable about Six is that despite its referential nature, the Easter eggs are deployed with finesse rather than a wink. When “Greensleeves,” which was composed by Boleyn, makes its appearance, it screams Fenty horniness rather than medieval melancholy.
As directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, the ensemble eventually recalls the joy evoked by girl bands like the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, and Little Mix, where each member has individual appeal, but working together they become unstoppable.
Similarly, every element in the musical is fine-tuned to create a seamless concert experience. The lighting design by Tim Deiling and the set by Emma Bailey shine because of the effectivity they’ve found in simplicity, while the costumes by Gabriella Slade beg to be dissected in all of their glorious detail.
The musical, which runs for less than two hours, is an electrifying experience that educates, challenges, and entertains. It’s one of those musicals I wanted to sit through again the moment it ended.
It’s fitting that Six is opening on Broadway less than a week after Britney Spears’ father was removed as the conservator of her finances. The pop singer still has a long way to go before being completely in control of her life, but as Six reminds us: the battle for women’s equality has unfairly been waged since time began, but the sheer joy of this musical makes one feel the win will arrive sooner rather than later.
Six plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.