At the ART, six Queens combine for a royal flash
CAMBRIDGE — Who knew that the many wives of Henry VIII were all rock goddesses? It certainly hasn’t gotten much play through the centuries, but it comes to the fore in “Six,” a dynamic, Energizer Bunny of a rock musical now at the American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center.
The premise is the six wives of the English King Henry VIII are performing a pop concert as a girl group. But each one of the 16th– Century Tudor Queens is sick and tired of the way she has been portrayed by history and is ready to set the record straight – in song, no less.
Co-Creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss developed the piece while undergrads at Cambridge University in the UK, and the result would easily fit into what their countrymen Monty Python called their 1971 comedy film: ” And Now for Something Completely Different.”
It is framed as a competition among the six women for best song, but eventually evolves into a competition over which wife has the most pathetic story – and the competition, given the backstories, is keen.
The six Queens, just to refresh your history-challenged memories, the performers portraying them, and their ultimate destinies are: Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), divorced; Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), beheaded; Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), death by natural causes; Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), marriage annulled; Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack), beheaded; and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele), a survivor after Henry’s death.
Each of the six offers a piece of her individual story as well as a solo piece tailored to their own experiences. The dramaturgists at ART have thoughtfully provided a guide to each of the six women in the program.
The six are all different shades of wonderful, but my favorite was Macasaet as Anne Boleyn, the former lady in waiting to Catherine who moved up before she got moved out. She may be small in stature but she’s big in talent and personality, no shrinking violet when she belts out a hip-hop flavored “Don’t Los Ur Head” to stand out in the Sisterhood of the Palace.
Co-creator Moss said one of the play’s goals was to write “great roles for women” and in the theatrical portraits that have emerged in song, it has more than met that standard.
Marlow said while extensive research was done to provides fodder for the musical numbers, each of the Queens is heavily influenced by a pop star from today’s world.
And while “Six” works because of both the writing and the charms of its principals, it ultimately owes its success to the catchy pop-rock score than encompasses a broad spectrum of musical genres. The lyrics are wickedly witty, and probably need to be heard several times to catch all the bon mots.
Then there’s the ingenious production value in programs notes that Gabriella Slades’s eye-popping costumes are mash-ups featuring elements of Tudor-style clothing as well as elements of actual designs worn by pop stars they are emulating
The choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille also pays tribute to pop stars such as Beyoncé, Avril Lavigne, Adele, Nicki Minaj, and Ariana Grande, and the six performers are often together in dazzling girl group precision-mode numbers.
The lighting by Tim Deling is rock concert-ready, and Paul Gatehouse’s sound balances the demands of the performers with a marvelous four piece band featuring Julia Schade on keyboard, Kate Foss and Kimi Hayes on guitar and Elena Bonomo on drums.
Directors Moss and Jamie Armitage never let the energy lag even for a moment.
“Six” has wended its way from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to London to Chicago to Cambridge to now, presumably, Broadway, picking up fans along the way, especially after the score has been downloaded already several zillion times.
Theater-goers at a recent performance couldn’t get enough – especially after a pulsating encore that had people dancing in the aisles — and this reviewer felt the same way.
‘Six” is one-of-a-kind, and the six women in it scintillating and, at a recent performance, unstoppable.
The American Repertory Theater in association with the Chicago Shakespeare Festival production of “Six” by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage. At the Loeb Drama Center through Sept. 29. Americanrepertorytheater.org.