By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“You’re gonna find out/ how we got unfriended….” sing six queens exploding out of history and into concert in their red-hot opening number. “Tonight we’re gonna do ourselves justice/ ‘cause we’re taking you to court!”
Give it up, Edmonton, for the wives of Henry VIII in Six the Musical! You know them already for being a sequence — “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.” Now they’re “Divorced. Beheaded. Live in Concert.” They’re the ex’s of a guy whose place in history was carved by the peculiar combo of being a terrible serial husband and starting the Church of England.
The sassy what-if? of Six — which lands the wives on the Citadel mainstage for their Canadian premiere (and only Canadian date before launching on Broadway in March) — is the six Tudor queens as fractious girl-power pop stars. Enough of being a spouse to a louse: they’re competing in a song contest, first prize to the one that got more grief, bullshit, and abuse from The Man. “What hurts more than a broken heart? wonders true-blue Jane Seymour, making her case. “A severed head,” snaps Anne Boleyn.
True, there have been shows before now that assembled the royal sextet onstage to air their grievances. Edmonton audiences have seen a couple: Tara Travis’s one-woman six-queen production Till Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (which put them in purgatory, jockeying for position) and Send in the Girls’ burlesque Tudor Queens. There has never been a show, however (OK, to my knowledge), till this Edinburgh Fringe student show-turned-West End hit that armed each queen with their own pop diva musical style nodding to Beyoncé, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Ariana Grande…. And also rhymed “Lutheranism.” And mentioned, in passing, the dissolution of the monasteries.
The bright idea from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, newly hatched Cambridge grads in 2017 and only 25 now, turns out to be a clever, slick but personable 80-minute entertainment, Hamilton-ian in the way it weds unexpected musical styles to history. It’s a blast of theatrical fun with a catchy original pop score, wicked lyrics, a message about female empowerment and solidarity— and a sense of humour that’s smart enough to be jokey (but still heart-warming) about the obviousness of its own premise.
The production, directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, has all the trappings of a splashy arena rock concert, production values tweaked for Tudor. Emma Bailey’s set with its neon arches, Tim Deiling’s outstanding lighting with its cross-hatched blare of glare at climactic moments, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s snazzy synchronized rock choreography, Gabriella Slade’s sexy punkish Tudor-accented costumes … all are fun to watch.
And to listen to. A fine female band of four, the Ladies in Waiting led by Edmonton’s Jen MacMillan on keyboards, rocks onstage with the cast. The actors, from the North American premiere production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater this past summer, are first-rate singers and movers, full of style and pizzaz, and dexterous in the comic timing department. And the anachronistic quip-crammed bickering of the queens, both in the songs and between them, will make you smile.
Adrianna Hicks, who has a very funny worldly-wise air to her, lands one of those defiant Beyoncé odes (No Way) as Catherine of Aragon, resentfully sidelined to a nunnery when Anne Boleyn catches Henry’s eye. Winnipeg’s Andrea Macasaet, the only Canuck in the cast, is a riot as the peppery little French-educated flirt Anne. She gets a sparky hip hop-flavoured number (“tried to elope, but the pope said nope…. everybody chill it’s totes god’s will”).
As Jane Seymour, the one who died, Abby Mueller gets Six’s big Adele-ish power ballad Heart of Stone, and knows what to do with it. (She even gets a little musical theatre joke: “stick around and suddenly you’ll see more.” Spot quiz next period).
It’s a measure of the pop wit at work in Six — it wears its cheeky anachronisms like sequins on a showgirl — that the fate of Anne of Cleves, rejected because she didn’t live up to her Hans Holbein portrait, inspires Marlow and Moss with the notion of online dating disappointments. Brittney Mack turns in a high-powered screw-you number. Living well (especially in a palace in Richmond, with lots of cash) is the best revenge, it turns out.
Samantha Pauley nails the gummy All You Wanna Do from Katherine Howard, who’s been pawed by guys since age 13. And Anna Uzele as Catherine Parr (“gold star for Cathy Parr”) the sole survivor of Hank’s serial marital history, gets the striking I Don’t Need Your Love, and that feels like resolution.
It all leads, smartly, to high-octane finale when the queens put aside their differences and come together as history’s ultimate girl-pop group. After all, “a pair doesn’t beat a royal flush.” And the six of Six are a crack ensemble. Resistance is futile; bestir yourself to get yourself a ticket if you possibly can and “party like it’s 1499.” The opening night audience, which somehow seemed younger than usual, roared to its collective feet with their cellphones pointed stageward. It doesn’t take the gift of prophecy to predict that Marlow and Moss are going places.
And don’t you dare decapitate your fun night out by leaving before the encore. N-N-N-N-N-N-No Way. Check out our PREVIEW and meet Marlow and Moss here.
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