‘Six’: Henry’s wives reborn as rock goddesses

The cast of the North American Aragon Tour of the musical “Six” now at the Emerson Colonial Theatre. Photo: Joan Marcus

BOSTON – Did you know that the many wives of the celebrated 16th Century monarch Henry VIII were all rock goddesses? It certainly hasn’t gotten much play through the centuries, but it comes to the fore in the national touring production of “Six,” a dynamic, Energizer Bunny of a rock musical now at the Emerson Colonial Theatre through Dec. 31.

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 80-minute result would easily fit into what their countrymen Monty Python called their 1971 comedy film: ” And Now for Something Completely Different.”

 “Six” had a tryout at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge in 2019 on the way to Broadway, where it won two Tony Awards for original score and the costumes by Gabriella Slade and is still running.

The musical 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 (Khaila Wilcoxon), divorced; Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever), beheaded; Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg), death by natural causes; Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donaldson), marriage annulled; Katherine Howard (Didi Romero), beheaded; and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo), a survivor after Henry’s death.

Storm Lever as Anne Boleyn in the musical “Six” at the Emerson Colonial Theatre. Photo: Joan Marcus

Each of the six offers a piece of her individual story as well as a solo piece tailored to their own experiences. Your Playbill thankfully provides a complete guide to all six queens.

The six are all very different shades of wonderful, but the appropriately named Storm Lever is a standout 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, and feisty to boot, 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 in an interview that one of the play’s goals was to write “great roles for women” and in the theatrical portraits that have emerged in the songs, it has more than met that standard.

Marlow said in an interview that while extensive research was done to provide 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 values.  Slade’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 conductor/keyboardist Jo Ann Daugherty, Janetta Goines on bass, Rose Laguana on guitars and Paige Durr 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 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 finale of the title song “Six” that had people dancing in the aisles.

‘Six” is one-of-a-kind, and the six women in it scintillating and, at a recent performance, unstoppable.

The North American Touring Production of “Six.” Created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage. At the Emerson Colonial Theatre through Dec. 31. BroadwayinBoston.com