It’s been a hot minute or three since the opening notes of a stage production gave me goosebumps and with them that amplified, euphoric feeling that something spectacular was about to unfold in the fields of musical theatre.
Such was the case on the Tuesday opening night of Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow’s “Six,” which begins with a thunderclap of raspy bass and a series of lightning bolts, each of Henry VIII’s six wives from England manifested by a shimmering silhouette.
From there, co-directors Moss and Jamie Armitage take the pop-rock score and six-woman ensemble (plus a live band of “Ladies in Waiting”) through an electrifying production that will have you wanting to step out of your seat and wave your lighter while roaring for an encore. (Don’t wave your lighter. Also, don’t leave until after the mega-mix remix after the curtain call).
The corrective feminist take on Henry’s 16th-century reign had a spectacular US premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2019. It hit Broadway in March 2020, only to have its opening (and airing) postponed nearly two years by COVID. Now, “Six” is back with a new cast and a high-energy nationwide tour that takes the fire from the original and puts it on a bigger, sparklier stage that allows the show to heighten its Greensleeves-meets aesthetic. -Beyonce at 11. When Olivia Donaldson’s Anne of Cleves commands “Okay ladies, let’s (Re)train” during the defiant “Get Down,” you’ll want to follow her wherever she takes you.
As “Six” establishes in its opening number “Ex-Wives,” history has not been kind to Anne of Cleves or her fellow members: Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon), Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever ), Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg), Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo).
They are generally remembered, when they are remembered, only in the context of their marriage and their death, according to the lyrics: “Divorced, beheaded, dead.” Divorced, beheaded, survived.
Moss and Marlow reclaim their stories with a book and lyrics that filter 16th century history through 21st century pop culture. It’s not just Beyonce who puns in this fiercely irresistible musical. Musical influences range from Poison to Greensleeves, pop culture references fly everywhere.
Framed as a “competition” to see which woman had the worst, the score provides every woman with a real showdown. There’s a twist at the end that shifts the plot from the competition to something much more satisfying.
“Six” also features standout moments for the ensemble as a whole. This includes the bright, neon frenzy of ‘Haus of Holbein’, when the women conjure up rave culture at its wildest, a vision of surreal, swirling colors as they explain how Anne of Cleves (deceased) was sent to marry Henry after he liked his “profile picture” (a portrait of Hans Holbein).
In “Heart of Stone”, Forsberg’s Seymour (dead) wins a jackpot of mega lottery silver tickets in a searing, heartbreaking ballad that describes both Seymour’s enduring love for Henry and the devastating grief of die in childbirth.
As Boleyn (decapitated), Lever channels a giddy teenage girl in “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” flirting, dancing, and LOL-ing until she’s decapitated, baffled to the end by the deadly politics which surrounds it. It’s a heartbreaking bop of a song.
One of the most unsettling and catchy tracks comes in ‘All You Wanna Do,’ as Romero’s Katherine Howard (decapitated) tells an increasingly dark story of being sexually assaulted at age 13 by her music teacher. , the first in a long series of much older, much more powerful men who dictated the terms of his short life. In the defiant and upbeat “No Way”, Wilcoxon’s Catherine of Aragon (deceased) raps about Leviticus with incandescent verve.
And when the contest finally turns to Carrillo’s Catherine Parr (survived), we get a bluesy, jazzy romantic tragedy that depicts Parr’s lifelong love, Thomas Seymour, and the devastation of being picked to marry Henry instead. .
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is from start to finish, her rhythmic and precise movements skillfully illustrating the lyrics and capturing their multiple moods.
Gabriella Slade’s gorgeous costumes merge the 16th century with a contemporary girl group. The clothes are a mix of Shakespearean necklaces, architectural mini-skirts and elaborate bodices, fruit on a platter, favored by Henry’s court. Emma Bailey’s set design frames the women with light and color, their shapes evoking cathedral windows once Henry confronts the Pope so he can divorce him.
And keep an eye out for the “Six” superfans. On opening night, there were women dressed as different queens, their costumes inspired precisely by Slade’s, spiked crowns woven into their hair. Even the audience for this show is fabulous.