By Meredith McBride, Managing Editor, August 2019
An unlikely girl group is here to change History into Herstory: Henry VIII’s (ex) wives. The brainchild of British duo Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, SIX, which runs at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge until September 29, got its start on London’s West End before embarking on global tours.
“SIX” is an epic diva-off between the former wives of King Henry VIII; each fights to rewrite history to prove that she suffered the most in her life. The show feels more like a fun pop concert than a musical at times, in the best way possible. Each queen was based on different modern pop stars, including Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, and Rihanna, to name a few, with her song and personality in matching style. Some have sassy upbeat songs, while others have serious ballads, in keeping with the stars on which they are based.
Despite the heavy content about the struggles that the Queens face in their lives (and in some cases, gruesome deaths), they present the material through both upbeat and emotional music. The kind of dark humor that has become commonplace today is prevalent in the show, with jokes about beheadings, among other traumas faced by the Queens. Because of the simple nature of the set and unchanging costumes, all the focus is on the music, which does not disappoint; the songs are catchy and easy to sing along to. The set is mostly dark and plain, but the neon strobe lights add to the fun, concert-like atmosphere. The costumes are modern takes on medieval clothing, such as crop tops with traditionally puffy sleeves. Each Queen wears mainly black with pops of her signature color.
Throughout the show, the fourth wall is broken numerous times by the Queens, lending a fun aspect of audience participation that is unusual in traditional theatre. The entire musical is framed as a singing competition between the Queens, with audience members expected to eventually vote on who had the most challenging life. Viewers are even encouraged to be out of their seats dancing at times. The majority of the show is the actual songs, with the time between filled with reparteé between the Queens.
Although there is a clear feminist message by the end, it felt a bit out of place considering the competition during the majority of the show. Still, the unexpected ending was artful and empowering. There is a clear emphasis on history being rewritten to share the perspectives of women, which aligns nicely with some of Nobles’s own views on teaching history in this day and age. The importance of unheard voices from history and abandoning the idea of “a single story” is something that should absolutely be spread to audiences around the world.
SIX is certainly in a category of its own, but it would be neglectful to ignore the obvious comparison to another famous, untraditionally modern take on history: Hamilton. Both feature history through the lens of an incredibly diverse and talented cast in addition to quick and witty lyrics. SIX also retains a focus on storytelling through songs, without much dialogue in between, although there is more to the plot to Hamilton due to the increased length. SIX runs for a mere 75 minutes without an intermission, which proves to be the perfect amount of time.
The show is definitely a must-see before it premieres on Broadway on February 13th!