By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
At the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, there were 3,398 shows. Only one of them continues to play to sold-out houses in the West End, and opens on Broadway in March.
That would be Six The Musical, the one that gets its Canadian premiere (and only Canadian dates before that Broadway opening night) on the Citadel mainstage Thursday. After a packed, held-over North American debut at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. And just before runs in St. Paul, Minn. and the Sydney Opera House.
Six The Musical: Divorced. Beheaded. Live In Concert, a pop concert/musical starring the wives of serial husband Henry VIII, was created by a pair of Cambridge University grads, best friends who were studying for their finals at the time.
Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, now just 25, were on hand at the Citadel Tuesday, along with the singing queens in their civvies. And, appealingly, they’re still breathing the air of improbability that attaches to the skyward ocean-crossing trajectory of their student production. “It was just supposed to be a fun project before we had to go out and find true jobs,” says Marlow of their bright idea of fashioning the stories of Henry’s wives into a battle of the pop divas — roles to show off the talents of their female and non-binary friends.
How a Fringe show with two £10 lights, a costume budget of £150 or so, and unpaid actors got noticed by London producers (Andy and Wendy Barnes, Kenny Wax) catapulted to hit status ramps up the old showbiz concept Big Break. Not least because it was at a “completely bonkers” festival where, as Marlow points out, the average audience size is “one person or less than one person.”
Their dreams, says Moss, extended to “imagining what if a London theatre wanted to do a week’s run…. then ‘No, No! We’re getting carried away’.” Four Monday nights at the Arts Theatre in the West End, and bam! “That’s when we lost our minds!” grins Moss.
And now, “Wait, Wait! we’re doing an Edinburgh Fringe show that’s going to Broadway!” says Moss. North America, so far? “Wild!” declares Marlow. “We wondered. A show about British history? Are they gonna get it?” Is it enough to change “mate” to “bro”? as he says. Short answer: yes. Long answer: “It’s British history, true. But the form, big fancy glam pop concert, is actually an American thing.”
In Chicago, audience members clustered nightly by the stage door after the show for autographs. And the same thing has happened at the Citadel, 50 or 60 people at a time, after Edmonton previews, reports Citadel artistic director Daryl Cloran. The run has attracted ticket-buyers across North America. And tickets are scarce. Says Citadel executive director Chantell Ghosh, for the first time, Citadel tickets have shown up on re-sale sites like Stubhub.
Six is the second of two Broadway-bound musicals that the Citadel has hosted recently. The first, Hadestown, reworked in Edmonton from its Off-Broadway version in the fall of 2017, played the National Theatre in London, then took home eight Tony Awards in New York, including best musical, in 2018. Cloran, who saw Six in London, was immediately attracted, for one thing because “women were taking their stories back.” And the stories were attached to “fabulous, incredibly catchy pop songs,” as the 50 million-plus downloads of the cast recording attest. “You can’t not be on your feet cheering at the end,” he says.
The international spotlight is intense on the disarming musical-writing pair whose muse tends to be comic, they say. “Our main focus is comedy song writers,” says Marlow. We love Tim Minchin (Matilda), for example. And also Max Martin (who writes for the likes of Katy, Britney, Justin).”
They arrived in musical theatre by slightly different routes. Marlow grew up “making music, playing instruments….” Moss trained as a dancer before taking up “directing, storytelling, comedy” at university. “The music I loved to dance to was pop music,” she says.
Although Moss had choreographed some of Marlow’s songs, Six was their first writing collaboration. History and an unexpected musical presentation? Sounds like Hamilton, the groundbreaking marriage of hip-hop and musical theatre in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway phenom. Moss and Marlow are happy to acknowledge the inspiration. “Huge!” says Marlow. “I was writing my thesis on it at the time. I really love Hamilton!”
“The canon of musical theatre has always reflected the genre of the time,” thinks Marlow, whether that was Rogers and Hammerstein, or rock and roll. “I felt like until Hamilton it had been a while since musical theatre had (embraced) a genre you hadn’t heard before in a musical.”
For a musical theatre creator, Hamilton expands “what you’re allowed to do, the possibilities,” says Moss, who “made a conscious choice not to see Hamilton before we wrote Six.” So the Tudor queens aren’t attached, musically, to the renaissance, to put it mildly; each claims the musical style of a pop diva, Beyoncé or Avril Lavigne.
Meanwhile, in their non-existent spare time Marlow and Moss are working on a new show. “A show about being single,” sighs the former. “It’s not about us. It’s about two musical theatre writers.” They look at each other and laugh. “I don’t know where that came from.”
Six The Musical
Created by: Lucy Moss, Toby Marlow
Directed by: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Starring: Andrea Macasaet, Adrianna Hicks, Abby Mueller, Brittney Mack, Samantha Pauly, Anna Uzele
Running: through Nov. 24