The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made theatre in Midtown Manhattan a logistical impossibility. Now that restrictions are easing and vaccination rates are rising, the bright lights of Broadway are back on for the foreseeable future. The month of September celebrated the return of staples like “Chicago,” “Hadestown” and “Wicked,” but it also saw the long-awaited, highly-anticipated opening of “Six” — and New York City is a better place because of it.
“Six” tells the story of the six wives of England’s King Henry VIII, who lived less than desirable lives at the hand of their husband. Though history has limited their legacies to the words describing their undoings (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived), “Six” seeks to rewrite their stories and showcase the overlooked aspects of the legendary Tudor queens.
The framing of the show is genius. Created by Cambridge University graduate students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the musical is told as a pop concert, with each of the six wives vying for the top spot as head of the girl group. They must each perform a song to prove to their fellow bandmates, as well as the audience, that they were dealt the worst hand of cards in life as a wife of Henry. Whoever had the hardest life will be crowned as the lead singer by the audience’s choosing, thus beginning an “America’s Got Talent” (or rather “Britain’s Got Talent”) style sing-off.
Each of the six queens was created in the likeness of a current female pop icon, with their corresponding songs matching the style of their designated artist: Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) as Beyoncé, Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet) as Avril Lavigne, Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller) as Adele, Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack) as Nicki Minaj, Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly) as Ariana Grande and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) as Alicia Keys. These depictions, however, are by no means caricatures of these musicians, but rather a means to further enhance the character development of the six characters. After all, the royals of the Renaissance were the celebrities of their day, and like the celebrities of the 21st century, they were known by their public image. Take Catherine of Aragon, for example. As the daughter of the king and queen of Spain, who was married to Henry for 24 years, she was a tried and true royal, as is Beyoncé in the world of music.
Before I can go any further gushing about this phenomenal production, I have to commend the immense talent of the small but mighty cast. The six queens and their four ladies-in-waiting in the band harness the energy of an audience excited to be back in a theater. Their vocals all excel in their own way, deserving of the standing ovation and five-minute-long applause.
The one-act musical clocks in at approximately 80 minutes, including the musical megamix, or rather “mega-six” that follows curtain calls. Honestly, this is the way to go with such a high-energy, upbeat musical. While musicals can reach upwards of two and a half hours with a standard 15-minute intermission, “Six” chose to keep its story brief, keeping the audience’s attention for every minute of the production. The concise nature makes the plot easy to follow and leaves viewers wanting more after the curtain falls.
The ascension of “Six” to the stages of Broadway marks the arrival of what I like to consider the first true post-”Hamilton” musical. Whether you are a theatre fan or not, “Hamilton” is an undisputed cultural phenomenon that extended its reach to all aspects of 2010s popular culture. In a similar tradition, “Six” pushes the boundaries of commonly-accepted Broadway show tunes. The pop influence is a draw for all audiences, once again serving as an open door for members of the general public curious about the world of Broadway.
To say that a ticket to “Six” is a guaranteed voucher for a good time is a drastic understatement. “Six” is an exhilarating rollercoaster that leaves you on an emotional high for at least the next week. For those of you thinking that “Six” is an extension of your ninth grade Renaissance unit in history class, the story is amazingly topical, showing just how universal the human experience is. All in all, “Six” is an assured great time that serves as a reminder of just how much we missed Broadway.