Review: SIX

by Lynn on September 29, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until May 26, 2024.

Presented by David Mirvish, Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes, George Stiles and Kevin McCollum, in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Written, composed and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss

Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage

Choreographer, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille

Scenic design by Emma Bailey

Costumes by Gabriella Slade

Sound by Paul Gatehouse

Lighting by Tim Deiling

Cast: Elysia Criz

Krystal Hernández

Maggie Lacasse

Lauren Mariasoosay

Julia Pulo

Jaz Robinson

Musicians: Elizabeth Baird (conductor/keyboards)

Allyson Macivor (drums)

Kia Rose (Guitars)

Aretha Tillotson (Bass)

Six is a whip-smart, creative, wily, joyous pop-rock musical about the six wives of Henry VIII and who suffered the most being married to the guy. Six is a ten!

In case you’re a bit rusty on British history (herstory?), creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss don’t leave you in suspense about what happened to the six wives of Henry VIII. When the six confident, alluring women make their entrance in the dazzle of Tim Deiling’s light, we hear: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived” we know.

What’s needed is the backstory of their stories so for context and in matrimonial order: Catherine of Aragon (Divorced), Anne Boleyn (Beheaded), Jane Seymour (Died), Anna of Cleves (Divorced), Katherine Howard (Beheaded), Catherine Parr (Survived).

Initially the premise is to see which wife was more important to Henry, but then with quick discussion it was decided there would be a contest to see which wife suffered the most being married to the guy. And it would take the form of a rock concert with each wife presenting her case. The (metaphoric) gauntlet dropped. No hold is barred. Each wife uses every sexually charged, full-throated moment to plead her case against her cohort of wives.  

Is it Catherine of Aragon, a statuesque and regal Jaz Robinson because she was married to the guy for 24 years but was humiliated when he threw her over for Anne Boleyn, a pert and coy Julia Pulo?  Do you win points if you die in childbirth, as Jane Seymour did, played by Maggie Lacasse, with a quiet demure quality. What if you don’t look as good in real life as you do in your painting as Anna of Cleves did? As Anna, Krystal Hernández makes a strong case for a bit of ‘touch up’ never mind that the painter is Holbein. Or what if you you have your head chopped off as Anne Boleyn (Julia Pulo) and Katherine Howard who never met a man she didn’t like, played with lusty exuberance Elysia Cruz by. And yes, even if you survived as Catherine Parr did, played with careful, wily smarts by Lauren Mariasoosay, that has to count for something. Do you know what Henry VIII looked like by then, never mind that, the smell of the man!

In the end that point is dropped. They are women taken on their own terms and not in the context of who they all married. And, no, Henry doesn’t make an entrance. I have a feeling it would not go too well for him.

Co-directors Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage create a relentless, breathless pace over Emma Bailey’s glittery, multi-leveled set.  Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is disco driven and yet distinguishes each Queen beautifully. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are some form of formfitting bustier or skinny pants or short skirts. Tim Deiling’s lighting is worthy of any rock-concert that flashes and dazzles. Paul Gatehouse has created the best sound I have ever heard in a musical in a long time. Each lyric is crystal clear. And you also actually hear the music.

The music and songs by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are dandy. They establish who these women are in their own individual way and the lyrics for each are brilliant. Truly.

There are 10 songs (this includes a mega-mix) in this 80-minute show and each queen has her moment to shine and make us laugh and tell her truth. Just two examples:  Catherine of Aragon:

“My name is Catherine of Aragon

Was married 24 years. I’m a paragon

Of royalty, my loyalty is to the Vatican

So if you try to dump me you won’t try that again…”

Or this cheeky song for Anne Boleyn:

“I’m that Boleyn girl, and I’m up next

See, I broke England from the Church, yeah I’m that sexy

Why did I lose my head?

Well my sleeves may be green, but my lipstick’s red…”

Which references the historical novel “That Other Boleyn Girl” by Phillipa Gregory.

And while it’s not proven that Henry VIII wrote “Greensleeves” for Anne Boleyn, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss don’t miss a change to reference that “my sleeves may be green…” 

With only 80 minutes it’s hard for each woman to actually make an impression and be distinctive after the fact. But during the show each wonderful performer establishes her individuality. Each singer/actress/dancer is terrific. They are all on stage for the whole show. The energy is breathless. And a shout out to the Canadians in the cast: Jaz Robinson, Julia Pulo, Maggie Lacasse, Elysia Cruz.  Even the band is made up of talented women.

The creators wanted to show the individuality of these women without the context of who they were married to. They wanted to show the parallels between these six women and women of today, 500 years later. They wanted to illuminate women’s stories and how hard it is to tell them, then and now. And they wanted to have fun. And they all succeeded. Loved it.

Presented by David Mirvish, Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes, George Stiles and Kevin McCollum, in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Plays until May 26, 2024.

Running time: 80 minutes.

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