Theater Review: ‘Six – The Musical’ at Brooks Atkinson Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 22 October 2021
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You’ve probably not heard much about the wives of Henry VI or Henry VII, monarchs who preceded Henry VIII and who had just one wife each.  Henry VIII, on the other hand, is best known for his six marriages and, hence, six wives, something every schoolchild in the United Kingdom and the United States knows about.

Henry VIII’s attempts to annul his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, after she didn’t produce a male heir, had far-reaching effects including the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, but he didn’t stop there.  Indeed, his marriages could be summarized as follows: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, and such is the stuff that musicals are made of.

Indeed, one could add  both “revived” and “quarantined” to that list as all six queens were in fact revived for the musical “Six,” which, slated to have its opening night on March 12, 2020, and were quickly quarantined by the pandemic-related shutdown of theaters in New York that very day.  Not to worry, the six have been revived once again.

“Six,” by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, a jubilant production that could be said to resemble what might have been a Tudor-age  production of  Queens Got Talent, sets one queen against the other to determine, basically, who was “the queen that was dealt the worst hand,” as she will emerge to be the one to lead the band, although the on-stage band, known as the “Ladies in Waiting” and comprised  of four female musicians, was already being led quite competently by music director Julie Schade.

The six wives emerge as a group to tell the initial story – “Remember us from PBS?” – and then begin the queenly bake-off.  Each queen has a signature color, look, and song.

Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Henry’s first and longest-wed,  leads off with “No way,” an anthem that points out, among other things, that “My loyalty is to the Vatican/So if you try to dump me, you won’t try that again.”  Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaft), in her solo, points out –  ultimately to no avail – that she’d prefer not to be beheaded.  “Sorry, not sorry ’bout what I said / Don’t lose your head,” the song goes on to say.

Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), the only wife Henry VIII really loved, of course died as we are reminded, and her moving torch song, “Heart of Stone,” is reminiscent of Adele’s “Hello.” Meanwhile, Anne of Cleves (the talented Brittney Mack) [the Duchy of Cleves, in German Herzogtum Kleve], gets an intro from all six queens with the “Haus of Holbein” where “Ooh ja, das ist gut” is where it’s at. She then proceeds to rock the Haus with her contest entry, “Get Down,” where she addresses Henry’s complaint that she “didn’t look like her profile picture,” and celebrates her post-divorce life of luxury, having traded six months of loveless marriage for 17 years of living in the lap of luxury, telling the world, “I’m the queen of the castle / Get down, you dirty rascal.”

Of course, we’re not yet finished with the six wives’ contributions.  Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack, no relation to Brittney Mack) shows how highly she thinks of herself (“I think we can all agree I’m a ten amongst these threes”), while Anna Uzele’s Courtney Parr, “the final wife,” brings the contest to a touching conclusion with “I Don’t Need Your Love.” She argues that the world should view the six wives not as just that, six wives, but as six strong individual queens, noting “Why can’t I tell that story? /  ‘Cause in history / I’m fixed as one of six.”

It doesn’t really matter that the writers took great liberties with history to entertain us.  What does matter is that they were making a rather strong point about who’s really in charge.  After all, just look at who rules England today.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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