Review: Six The Musical

There have been quite a few Broadway musicals about royal ladies over the past few years, but most of them were closed before they truly had a chance to shine. Both Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella and Britney Spears' Once Upon a One More Time only lasted a few months on the Great White Way before they went dark. One of the most contemporary shows about female empowerment that has stood the test of time is Six, the British musical about the six wives of King Henry VIII. I recently saw this show six years after its 2017 opening, so it lasted at least as many years as its namesake. What is it that made this show dominate so many other contemporary female-empowering fairy tales? For one thing, Six stands apart because it is not a fairy tale. The six historical queens who are featured in it had miserable lives for different reasons. By encouraging its audience to learn more about history, Six benefits from the success of other historical musicals like Hamilton, which is one reason it has outlived similar shows that were produced over these last six years.

Something interesting I noticed about the playbill cover is that the show poster, which features the six queens belting into microphones, is different based on the actresses who are performing. Six always features a diverse cast. The races of the queens in the one I saw were different from the performers in the original Broadway cast, staying true to Broadway's long history of color-blind casting. Another thing that stands out about this show is that it regularly breaks the fourth wall. The queens repeatedly address the city and venue where they are performing and play off the audience's reactions in the hopes that they will pick a favorite queen before they ultimately conclude that it's better for women to support each other instead of making everything a competition, a very noble message indeed. For a one-act show with a small cast and simple staging, it's incredible that it has been so successful when it lacks many of the bells and whistles that stand out with high-budget Broadway productions.

For me, the thing that makes this show so appealing is its incredibly catchy tunes. Each queen's musical style is inspired by two contemporary pop artists, which makes it nostalgic to people who grew up in the '90s and early 2000s despite its Renaissance setting. The stylized color-coded costumes are a perfect blend of historical and contemporary fashion with each glittering ensemble strategically designed to match the personality of the queen wearing it. There are also references to social media and smartphones, which makes the show more relatable to modern audiences in the same vein as Hamilton. Two of the best numbers are the ones that the queens sing together at the beginning and end of the show, solidifying its girl-power theme of women uplifting each other instead of putting each other down. Anyone who is familiar with the soundtrack would have a hard time not singing along with the catchy melody and dance moves of "Six."

The biggest selling point of Six is the show's "her-story," which teaches audiences often who know very little about these queens what their lives were like and how they met their downfall. The show's opening "Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived" adage is popular among British schools, but for audiences from America and other countries, it is the first time that many heard it. It quickly expands upon each queen's story and the events that led up to her famous ending. Before I became familiar with this show, the only wife of Henry VIII that I knew anything about was Catherine of Aragon thanks to the Starz miniseries, The Spanish Princess. Now I can confidently say I have a decent amount of knowledge about all six wives, and each one has her own personal appeal. The most inspiring of the group is Catherine Parr, the one who survived and went on to write books and become a powerful leader during the interim between Henry's death and the next monarch. She is the one who leads the queens into the empowering unity of the show's final number.

In a sea of contemporary Broadway musicals centered around royal ladies, Six has emerged as a standout that has endured and captivated audiences. While other productions may have faltered, Six shines due to its unique approach. Unlike the typical fairy tale narrative, Six delves into the historically tumultuous lives of the six queens of Henry VIII, shedding light on their struggles and inviting audiences to explore history. This ability to educate and entertain in equal measure is a significant factor in its success, drawing inspiration from the triumph of historical musicals like Hamilton. While I'm not usually a fan of one-act Broadway shows charging the same price as the traditional two-act shows that are nearly twice as long, Six's minimalist structure makes it a fun energetic concert-like spectacle that is well worth the price.


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