The brick-phone generations had The First Wives Club. For the newer waves, it’s Six The Musical.
The acclaimed “histo-remix” is a non-stop pop concert, with loads of substance packed into its addictive tracks. If Lizzo and Ariana Grande are your style, this summer jam’s a must-see. The national tour performs at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through July 23.
Divorced, beheaded, died.
Divorced, beheaded, survived.
I’m done, ’cause all this time
I’ve been just one word in a stupid rhyme.
— Six The Musical
We helped them rise, we can help them fall.
— The First Wives Club (1996 film)
The wives of Henry VIII — the 16th-century English king so committed to philandering that it kicked off an international inter-denominational brawl — barely get their own names. Collectively, they’re the six wives, his accoutrements, like a row of showy rings worn at their owner’s pleasure.
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ hit original musical Six throws him aside instead, a cast-off accoutrement (and a fairly grimy one at that), while the six take both the title and the stage. Sprucing up a (rather loose) historical narrative with forward-looking women’s liberation and swiping right, the women are cast as pop stars throwing down over who had it the worst. But these are no down-and-out past-dwellers. They may be airing their trauma, but it’s for their own sought-after ends. And though their fates were sealed 400 years ago, their historical tales are getting a refresh.
Welcome to the show, to the histo-remix.
Shining in futuristic, vaguely Victorian-reminiscent short skirts in bold gemstone colors with metallic embellishments (costumes by Gabriella Slade, who won the Tony Award last year for them), and amped-up under rockstar lights (by Tim Deiling), in this show the six look like fine jewels but no longer the accessories. And neither are other women. Even the “ladies in waiting” — the title given collectively to the band members — are active players in this show, catching some spotlight throughout. And these players rock, with a four-member band (conductor Valerie Maze on keys, Rose Laguana on guitar, Janetta Goines on bass, and Paige Durr on drums) cranking out loud and layered sound.
Thrust into an arena a la elimination-round singing contests — but talking much more smack than those glossy primetime shows usually allow (or air) — the six wives of Henry VIII take their positions: Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon), Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever), Jane Seymour (Natalie Paris, who originated the role), Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson), Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack), and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo).
Divorced, beheaded, died.
Divorced, beheaded, survived.
They make it very clear they’re not here to be bound by that little rhyme anymore — they’ve brought plenty of their own. But this is a competition after all, and they’re here to brawl over who takes first place in the not-so-venerable title of which queen got treated like trash the most. Who suffered most at the hands of their king?
Two candidates have an obvious claim to the worst-off title from the start: Anne Boleyn (contestant #2) and Katherine Howard (contestant #5), both of whom their jealous husband ordered executed not too long after they wed. Both roles are played with a similar youth and boldness that sings of Cardi B.
Catherine of Aragon (contestant #1), who was stuck with him the longest and cast away the most famously — with Henry kicking off a split with the Vatican in the process — makes quite the compelling case. And Wilcoxon-as-Aragon already feels like a natural leader of this squad.
Contestant #3, Jane Seymour (“the only one he truly loved”) changes it up, swapping the others’ fast-paced digs for a swirling ballad with a big power note. Seymour died right after childbirth, giving the king the male heir he’d long been after, and perhaps winning his lasting gratitude in the process. Hers is a more familiar stage story of love lost; and Paris-as-Seymour’s delivery is stunning.
From there it’s a quick turn back to the blazing pop tracks, and a comedic interlude (“Haus of Holbein”) is a good bridge between the two, excoriating absurd beauty standards with cleverly staged dating app jokes.
Which leads to Anna of Cleves (contestant #4), selected from afar from her “profile pic” (a portrait by Hans Holbein that’s now in the Louvre collections), then rejected upon first sight.
But that rejection pivots quickly to a celebration song: she gets the spoils of riches (paid off with a palace of her own) without having to deal with the king. Anna rather gleefully admits that she doesn’t have a chance at the title of worst-off. And freed from the pressure of the competition, Anna cuts loose, her performance full of humor and bravado. Shedding clothes and with a grinning side-turn to the audience, Donalson-as-Anna’s show cops a Lizzo feel, cheekily shaking ass like she’s playing a crystal flute.
Finally, Catherine Parr takes center stage — and promptly ruins the game. Questioning (rightly of course) why they’re competing in trauma, she initially refuses to sing. Meanwhile, the band plays on to vocal silence; and just how long that backing track plays on is understated comedy gold, blissfully unaware it’d been dumped like an abandoned karaoke song.
After resetting the mission, Parr eventually sings her tale. The show’s ending — a message of coming together to have the last word in their stories — is both trite and inevitable.
This is where the show becomes a thing of unity, rather than of picking at each other. But really they were united all along, on a singular mission: the unsung queens taking back what’s theirs.
Even with its predictable arc, Six is a wholly satisfying musical: a full-throttle original score (for which the co-writing/composing duo Marlow and Moss won the Tony Award), arena-show-worthy choreography (by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille), and tight direction (by Moss and Jamie Armitage). This is stunning staging — the queens’ fates and protestations are punctuated loudly and boldly.
For anyone with pop tendencies, dry wit, or a love for a relentlessly fun, fast-paced production over a sweeping three-hour musical, the enchanting Six was dreamed up just for you. See it now with this incredible Aragon Tour cast.
Read about Marlow and Moss’ inspirations for the musical, alongside an annotated lyrics guide and historical summaries, in an excellent Smithsonian Magazine article here.
Six The Musical runs through 7/23 at the Paramount Theatre in Downtown Seattle. Tickets here. Accessibility notes: main restrooms downstairs and upstairs are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms on the main floor. Theatre and some common areas are wheelchair accessible. Audio-described performance on 7/16 (matinee), open-captioned performances on 7/16 and 7/21 (evenings), and ASL-interpreted performance on 7/23 (matinee); see notes on ticketing page for best accessible seating options.
Run time: 80 minutes, no intermission.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.