Six on ‘Six’
Our cohort got together to talk about their love of Six, the Broadway musical about the wives of Henry VIII, which recently opened on Broadway (read our review here). Framed as a pop concert where each queen gets a chance to tell their story, the musical by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow references pop music divas to deliver a kick-ass feminist experience. Our team of six, led by Cohort Director Jose Solís, talked about which queen they identify with the most, Easter eggs they loved, and what it was like to return to a big Broadway musical.
Jose Solís: Let’s go straight to what matters: which queen are you?
Juan Michael Porter II: I’m going to go first because I am the first queen. She’s actually the second, but she should be the first, Anne Boleyn all the way.
Bedatri D. Choudhury: Everybody would probably go for Anne.
Christian Lewis: I think if they did vote in the show Anne Boleyn would win.
Juan Michael Porter II: She’s so fun.
Bedatri D. Choudhury: But also know if people voted I think the third one [Jane Seymour] with the sob story would have won because she’s like “I was giving birth and I died.” I think people would have voted for her but I would have voted for Anne.
Ran Xia: I really thought the fifth one [Katherine Howard] would have won.
Christian Lewis: I’m a Katherine Howard, same.
Ran Xia: For me personally the other Anne.
Juan Michael Porter II: Cleves?
Ran Xia: Yeah.
Juan Michael Porter II: I mean I do love it when she’s like “you guys my life is amazing I have my own castle.”
Ana Zambrana: I’m probably Catherine Parr, she’s standing strong and is super emotional as well. I’d be the one getting this emotional on stage, that’d be me.
Jose Solís: You also want to survive so I’m a total Catherine Parr too.
Bedatri D. Choudhury: Outlive all your husbands, yes that’s the plan.
Ran Xia: She’s the OG Black Widow.
Christian Lewis: How many Queens do we cover there? We got four out of six.
Jose Solís: So no one wants to be Catherine of Aragon and no one wants to be…
Christian Lewis: Jane Seymour.
Juan Michael Porter II: I mean, I love Aragon and I like her song. I was actually really impressed, she was phenomenal but just the sheer on sassiness of Anne Boleyn did it for me. Her constant digging into things, plus she’s a pervert, and who doesn’t love a pervert?
Christian Lewis: Listening to the recording my favorite was Anne Boleyn, but when I saw it I was like “I’m a Howard.” I didn’t expect to change my allegiance when I saw it live. I really identify with Katherine Howard’s trauma narrative and found it to be really compelling. I’ve loved the way that people have debated a lot about how bubbly or light the show is, and then how it also does really heavy things.
Jose Solís: I’m glad that you mentioned the listening aspect Christian because had any of you seen the show before it came back? I saw it three times pre-pandemic. I went to Boston once and when it came to New York I went two more times. I felt like I was going to the Spice Girls concert that I never had the chance to go to. Since it opened the show became a global phenomenon, so what was your entry point into Six?
Ran Xia: I didn’t listen to the music until I went to the show. But there were two entry points for me. The first one was the day I went to the show I was waiting in line and there was this little girl dressed up basically as Anne Boleyn with a glittery pink jacket and everything. I was sold.
I’ve also been researching while I’m directing a show that kind of partially happens around the Elizabethan Tudor era. So I was looking at the Six costumes for inspiration, but I specifically avoided the music and further information because I knew I was gonna go see it.
Christian Lewis: I was a big fan of the recording in advance. But interestingly I was at opening night and asked everyone that same question. Almost everyone was like, “No, I haven’t listened to it.” I thought that was interesting because I feel it’s been such a global sensation.
Juan Michael Porter II: Jose, I heard you talk about it, I looked up the British recording and thought “Oh, this is so fun.”
Bedatri D. Choudhury: I actually hadn’t, because my background is not so much in theater. I had not heard of it or any of the songs either. Jose, I’m so happy you said the thing about the Spice Girls because when I watched it I felt the same. Especially near the end I was like, “this is Scary Spice, this is Baby Spice…”
Ran Xia: There was a “tell me what you want, what you really, really want” reference too.
Ana Zambrana: Last year during my BFA I took a dance class and this girl did “Get Down” as one of her dances. I didn’t know where it was from but it was so great. And then there was TikTok, of course, which had clips of the show and people dancing to it.
Jose Solís: So does that mean that you’re ready to start your own TikTok with Six dances?
Ana Zambrana: Oh my God, if I could dance!
Jose Solís: When this was coming to New York, older white journalists were debating whether it was a musical or not. I found the conversation preposterous because what the show does so well is challenging our preconceived notions of what a musical is and should be. It also does it so well, that who cares what category it falls under. Where do you all stand on that topic?
Christian Lewis: I love where you went with that because I’ve actually had a ton of debate about is Six a musical too because I’m dating a musical theater composer and we fight about this definition. I hear a lot of people say that for a play to be considered a musical it has to have songs that advance the plot. Some people add that the songs need to be non-diegetic. Six fits one but doesn’t fit the other. But why do we need a definition of when a play becomes a musical? Six is amazing and I’m happy we get to see it.
Ana Zambrana: Christian I agree because when I first stepped into the musical, honestly, I’m not gonna even lie, I had this thought: is this going to be a concert? And by the end, the Queens did such an amazing job of taking us on this journey, and you look around and everyone’s dancing under confetti, that I asked myself: what is your issue? People are having fun, if it was a Friday, I would have gotten a drink after.
Christian Lewis: I have this theory actually. Some of the book parts are less than perfect, but Six could’ve been just them singing the eight songs and I would still consider it a musical. I’m happy it’s on stage, and it feels theatrical. That’s good enough for me.
Juan Michael Porter II: It’s fascinating with these older white people, I wonder if they saw “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,” which is a musical about a woman going back to music and going on the road as a musician. Watching Six, as each queen does the setup of the monologue and the competition, I kept thinking this is “Roxie Hart” over and over again, which is one of the most phenomenal setpieces in musical history. No one would ever argue against the importance of that. And so you have six of these arranged as a contest, and each has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s absolutely a musical, anyone who argues against that just doesn’t actually care about the evolution of the form or is stuck in Oklahoma!
Bedatri D. Choudhury: It’s very interesting you guys are having this debate because I grew up in India and the movie-going culture I was born into is a melodramatic institution. I’m talking “melo” as in music and “drama” as in drama, and so I’m used to storytelling through music and dance, that this thought didn’t even occur to me. Also, I don’t think of formalistic definitions when I’m watching.
Ran Xia: What is a play? We’ve expanded and evolved so much of that over the course of centuries. And plus, I think, on the flip side, clearly, this is not a concert, because with a concert, very rarely you are sending a message, or having some sort of agenda. Because with a concert, you’re going there to listen to the music and celebrate the artistry of musicians and their work specifically within the confines of each song or even each album.
In Six they know exactly what they’re doing. They have a message in the end, they even give you this wink in the end: guess what, this is was what we planned all along. To me, that is a story.
Bedatri D. Choudhury: A concert is so much driven by the cult of celebrity, right? You’re going to watch a Britney Spears concert, so there’s something you expect out of it. I don’t think Six was defined by that. In fact, for most of the actors, this is their big Broadway debut. A concert has to be defined by that celebrity, which wasn’t true in this case, instead here you’re fans of everyone by the end.
Christian Lewis: We’re not going because the actor playing Catherine Howard or Jane Seymour is a celebrity, we’re going because Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn are celebrities. The way that they play with that it’s actually really cool too. We’re invested in the characters and then we become invested in the actors.
Jose Solís: Thinking of the atmosphere, what was it like for you to return to Broadway musicals after so long?
Juan Michael Porter II: I just wanted to get up on stage and do high kicks with them. This is why I came to New York!
Christian Lewis: This wasn’t my first theater experience after the pause but it was my first musical, and when people think of a Broadway musical this is what they want. They want a party, confetti, sequins, glitter, and bops. They want amazing actors belting riffs in your face and Six gives you everything you’d want from a musical in 80 minutes.
Ran Xia: Six was also the very first time I went and bought a themed cocktail that they’ve made for a musical. Because, I mean it was called “Heir of Dog” and it had a Granny Smith Apple taste and other things in it. They did a lot of punny cocktails for this one. It was very strange to have a cocktail out of a sippy cup while wearing two layers of masks.
Christian Lewis: Each queen should have a cocktail.
Jose Solís: I came up with my own cocktails for each queen. My Anne Boleyn one was beer-based so you’d have to chop the head off when you poured it, but anyway, can we talk a little bit about the pop references in this? Did you all love pop growing up?
Ran Xia: I actually never listen to any of that but I think I might be a convert.
Jose Solís: What did you listen to growing up?
Ran Xia: A lot of Avril Lavigne, singer/songwriter stuff, and Chinese music.
Christian Lewis: Avril Lavigne is listed as one of the references to Anne Boleyn, so there you go.
Jose Solís: Did anyone have specific Easter eggs they loved?
Christian Lewis: “All You Wanna Do” being so sampled on “If U Seek Amy” by Britney Spears, had me just dying. I didn’t realize how close it is until I heard it live with the full orchestra. I was like “this is a Britney song even if she looks like Ariana [Grande]!”
Ana Zambrana: I thought Aragon being Beyonce and Shakira was so on the nose but done so beautifully. I was just in awe.
Juan Michael Porter II: Parr for me was bringing in Whitney Houston vibes, the big ballad but also the message of how to get through heartbreak. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” was actually coming to mind throughout her number, not so much for the melody but for the feeling of it.
Christian Lewis: She also had such Alicia Keys energy when she was like “can I get a B flat major seven?”
Ran Xia: Was there some Adele in Jane Seymour?
Bedatri D. Choudhury: A little bit I think, yeah.
Christian Lewis: I actually struggle with the inspiration for Jane Seymour and this is probably because Abby Mueller plays her and she’s Jessie Mueller’s sister, so I feel like her song is kind of more inspired by “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress than any actual Adele song.
Jose Solís: She also totally makes me think of Baby Spice especially when they make fun of her not being able to dance. I wanted to talk a little bit about something Christian has pointed out to me on several occasions, and it’s the show’s very strong feminism. This isn’t something we see regularly on Broadway and it made me think of how much more I would have loved Hamilton if it had only been about the Schuyler sisters.
Bedatri D. Choudhury: I really liked he idea of addressing race and not talking about it. These are six English women, as white as white gets and no one’s making a big deal about it. I remember how much talk there was when it was announced a Black woman would be playing Hermione in the Harry Potter play.
I absolutely loved the fact Six doesn’t turn this into a thing. This is New York, this is what a stage in New York looks like. I absolutely love that.
Of course, the feminist angle is so important because exes are supposed to hate each other, right? But here we just see them getting along. I was like, “hmm, maybe I’ve lived my life very badly and maybe I need to look up some phone numbers now.”
Ran Xia: I was intrigued because Catherine Parr was this pioneer in many different things. She talked about how she wrote a book, and that she got her portrait painted by a woman. So now I feel like I want to hear her story.
Then they had this discussion of the fact that they are all here only because they all married Henry VIII. So how do we go from there to decenter this invisible man and I think this show did a good job of centering these female characters, while also addressing how we got there, and then offered a direction afterward, of now maybe you tell a story about Catherine Parr and who she is outside of Henry.
Juan Michael Porter II: I also like that in its very feminist way it also has a critique of feminism within itself, and how they address that and where they’re going with it. It also had a wonderful sense of sisterhood, even if they were in competition with each other, they didn’t hate each other they were six siblings and not like creepy sister wives.
Christian Lewis: I was there on opening night and I love to see how the cast and team all support each other so much. We have a cast of 10 amazing women including the alternates, and we have four amazing female musicians, the majority of the design team, the choreographers, one of the writers, one of the directors, they’re all women. It’s really walking the walk and talking the talk on having an actual female-led Broadway show, that also has a very explicit feminist message. In the past, we’ve kind of had one or the other on Broadway, we either had feminist shows or female-led teams. And this kind of like really puts it all together in such an exciting way. I hope it can make some change and show producers what’s possible.
Ana Zambrana: What makes me super excited is that this is on a big stage as a musical and there are little girls watching this and it’s entertaining. They are getting music and fun, and also being shown that they too can be on the stage. Not only that, they can learn from these women as well, and see that they can love each other as women and raise each other up. It’s such a beautiful healing message for boys too!
Christian Lewis: I did want to give them tons of credit because in all of their casting announcements, they said they were open to cis women, trans women, non-binary performers. I can’t wait till we have a non-binary performer play one of these queens or a trans performer like Peppermint, I’m ready to see them play Aragon.
Ran Xia: It’s such a great history lesson as well, or herstory lesson. I didn’t grow up here and English history was not really a main subject that we had to cover, and we didn’t watch PBS. Being involved in theater was my main source of knowing what happened with Henry VII and Shakespeare. I feel like I know all of these people, just from watching the show. And it’s done in such a contemporary and simple way that anybody will understand it.
Christian Lewis: I’ve seen biopic musicals before which I’ve described as sing-a-long Wikipedia articles. And Six was not this at all, they gave us the whole complexity of the six women’s lives and amazing songs that didn’t feel like really bad summaries.
Juan Michael Porter II: Because it’s an actual musical.
Jose Solís: Who would you want to see get their own Six-style musical next?
Bedatri D. Choudhury: Harriet Tubman. I want to see something joyous and beautiful about the Underground Railroad.
Juan Michael Porter II: I would go with different fighters in the movement for HIV and AIDS who were so fascinating, like the Latino Act-Up caucus who started it in Puerto Rico. You could really just focus on those six individuals and have a fantastic musical.
Ran Xia: I would love to see a punk rock musical about women scientists, including Ada Lovelace.
Ana Zambrana: I would probably love to see a musical about all the women in my life like my mom, my grandma. I would love a multi-generational kind of musical, so maybe I would learn more about their stories. Something like along that line, you know, a bunch of Latinas screaming, and I say this in the most respectful way possible, I would love that.
Christian Lewis: I would love a musical about a woman named Anita Florence Hemmings, who was the first non-white student to go to Vassar College which was an all-women school. I think it’s just a really cool story about race and class and privilege and women’s rights and feminism and women’s education. I think it’s a story that we need because so much of the history of the suffragette movement, especially in America and England is just so white.
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