Six the Musical Sizzles, Pops, & Inspires Young ‘Queens’
Six the Musical, based on the six wives of Henry VIII has come to The Orpheum Theatre and these queens are ready to dazzle. Six composers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss won the 2022 Tony Award for Best Original Score and the impassioned San Francisco crowd was full of anticipation.
When the curtain opened the six wives announced their fates in their very first lines “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”. Not a very cheerful thought for the glittering ladies onstage, especially if you know the stories. I suggest that you don’t dwell on that.
It’s worth ignoring the misogyny, powerlessness, and poor treatment of these women by history. They are back and here to entertain you at last. The original Broadway production of Six was scheduled to open the very day that all of Broadway went dark at the start of ‘shelter in place’ in the spring of 2020. During the quarantine, the nine obscenely catchy tunes were one of the most downloaded albums on Spotify.
The Playbill shows us the portrait of each queen, some facts about them, and then their “Queenspiration”. Each one is inspired by a modern Queen Beyonce, Lily Allen, and Ariana Grande to name a few. The show begins with each queen in competition with one another. The one with the worst story of victimhood shall be crowned “leader of the band.” I did notice that even the merchandise in the lobby plays to this. The queens are color coded with a signature “look”. The costumes, designed by Gabriella Slade are each a unique work of art. You can purchase a pin or other item with your favorite queen (Anna of Cleves, clearly) but I digress. It felt very reminiscent of the Spice Girls. It gets a huge laugh when a “Tell Me What you Want?” line is sung to poke fun at this fact.
At one point during the show, I looked around to see my section of the audience was comprised mostly of gay men, tweens and their parents, smiling and singing along. Everyone knew the words.
Six was written by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow while they were still students at Cambridge. The puns thrown cleverly into every song have you laughing even as you are seeing bits and pieces of a fairly gruesome history poke through the fun. The queens dance and throw some serious shade. They demand our attention as only a modern diva can.
Henry’s first and longest-wed wife Catherine of Aragon’s (based on Beyonce and Shakira) glorious anti-divorce ditty “No Way” had the audience in her spell. Played by Khaila Wilcoxon, Catherine of Aragon shines and refracts her signature gold color out into the audience as she led us cheerfully through the six sad tales. It’s bizarre and arresting all at once.
Henry’s fourth wife Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) sings “Get Down” while channeling Nicki Minaj and has one of the most mischievously, devilish smiles I’ve ever encountered. She sings about her lush post-divorce life, now living in a castle as a “sister” to the king. The audience was living for her when she stated, “Now, I’m not saying I’m a gold digger, but check my prenup and go figure.” This song follows the fabulous Haus of Holbein in which Anna is rejected by Henry because she did not look enough like her profile picture. So good.
A few Wives later Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) bounces up with her pink-tipped ponytail held high. She is Ariana Grande inspired and playing the wife most overlooked by history. She does actually tug on your heartstrings. It’s so irreverent and funny up to this point that it’s a shock.
Side note: it’s said that the night before she was to be beheaded, Katherine Howard requested that the executioner’s block be brought to her so that she might practice how to properly lay her head upon it.
In the end it is a wise Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo) who councils that wives should come together and to stop opposing one another. The queens agree and drop the competition angle in a whiplash move.
It’s a fast-paced show speeding us through hip-hop, electronica, house music, and soul while weaving it together with some signature musical moves. It’s witty with a whiff of third-wave feminism. The costumes, the music, and the talent had the audience floating out into the night singing songs of 16th Century politics and intrigue.