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The Spice Girls meets Greensleeves: Six the Musical

What happens when you mix six powerhouses of vocal talent with female rage? You get Six the Musical! 

I was lucky enough to catch one of its final shows at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on May 22nd as Six unfortunately concluded on May 26th. The theatre is gorgeous in the way that old theatres are, although it is steep, which makes it hard to see the whole stage from the further seats. Nevertheless, most attendees of the show from its debut in Toronto in September 2023 until its closing will have nothing but praise for it. Such merit has translated into 23 awards.

Six the Musical, born from the ingenuity of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, is an 80-minute masterpiece about the six ex-wives of King Henry VIII in the style of a pop concert. Forgotten at the mercy of historical and current patriarchy, the six ex-wives voice their stories in an attempt to disassociate their identities from their tyrannical ex-husband. Through song, the leading ladies reflect on their marriages and experiences with and beyond Henry VIII. The result is a "herstory” lesson, a pop concert, and a spectacular evening.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

“Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”, the six ex-wives lit up the stage in all their splendour but, who are they really? Reading the playbill received upon entry was necessary to find out. In it we found profiles of the main characters and their information in a form that resembled a Pokémon card. Included was information such as their birth and death, interests, a fun fact, and notably, “Queenspiration”. Each of the ex-wives had two female singers or “queens” from whom their songs were inspired:

Catherine of Arragon (Divorced) was inspired by Beyoncé and Shakira.

Anne Boleyn (Beheaded) was inspired by Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne

Jane Seymour (Died) was inspired by Adele and Sia

Anna of Cleves (Divorced) was inspired by Nicki Minaj and Rihanna

Katherine Howard (Beheaded) was inspired by Ariana Grande and Britney Spears

Catherine Parr (Survived) was inspired by Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

While this might not be key information for the average audience member, I found it important to be able to appreciate the additional layer of thought in the performances. The six wives on stage were accompanied by the “ladies in waiting”. Aptly named after historical ladies in waiting, the all-female four-piece band rocked the stage with their keyboard, bass, electric guitar, and drums.

The six ex-wives and ladies in waiting kicked off the show with the song Ex Wives, which introduced the intention of the show through its lyrics. With its charming word play in “historemix”, and creative rhymes, the song amped up the audience and demonstrated what was in store for us. The intense six-part harmonies set my expectations impossibly high for the remaining songs. They were met.

After bearing our raucous applause, the queens verbally introduced the show and proposed a competition for the best ex-wife, determined by who had it the hardest. This spun off into solos from each queen:

No Way 

Don’t Lose Ur Head

Heart of Stone

Haus of Holbein

Get Down

All You Wanna Do

These were performed with backing vocals from the other ex-wives, all the while dancing demanding choreography. I found myself often wondering how they could all sing and dance at such a high level simultaneously. My personal favourite numbers are Don’t Lose Ur Head and All You Wanna Do. These songs latched onto me and have stayed in my head and on my Spotify ever since. It's no wonder Six won the 2022 Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics).

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Throughout the show, each of the characters’ personalities shine through, reinforcing their identities outside of Henry VIII. Julia Pulo, who played Anne Boleyn, was particularly memorable. Perhaps it is because Anne Boleyn’s part is greater in the show, as she is of course the most well-known of all the ex-wives. She frequently had remarks for what her co-stars said, dryly reminding them that what they went through couldn’t be worse than her fate: being beheaded. Memorable voices for me were from Jaz Robinson who played Catherine of Aragon and Maggie Lacasse who played Jane Seymour, though they were all incredible. All the singers were masters of complicated riffs, with unbelievable ranges, shown off by belting the highest of high notes.

When it was finally Catherine Parr’s turn to sing, she opted out, explaining the pointlessness of competition when they should all be appreciating each others’ struggle and bonding over their shared trauma. Eventually, she is bullied into performing “I Don’t Need Your Love,” at last making the other ex-wives understand her point of view. After a few minutes of confusion and contemplation over wasted time competing, they all break into “Six” where they tell their own stories the way they wished it played out. Many of the queens became singers and got to marry whom they chose. It was heartwarming.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Outside of the talent, I found that most of the show’s merit lay in its concept. I loved that Six sported an all-female cast, following its feminist message. Between the show's sarcastic humour and electric songs, we found six women who were mistreated and crushed under the thumb of a ruler who had very little concern for them. The show invited the audience to consider the other female voices and stories silenced by the patriarchal patterns of society. As a woman, I felt empowered.

For a Broadway show, I found Six to be a lot more musical than it is theatre. The story, dialogue, and monologues were eaten up and conveyed through the songs. While this improved the songs, it left very little acting to be done. The acting and lines felt like segues into the next song. It was done well, however it was occasionally difficult to understand such crucial information in a melismatic falsetto. Additionally, it was only an 80-minute show. After all the ex-wives were properly introduced, we found ourselves exiting the theatre. I would have loved to see more of a portrayal of events through acting or more conversation between the queens. 

Overall, the show’s reception was grand, and the production and execution were of such a high standard. It was a treat for the eyes, ears, and the mind.

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