**** Highly Recommended **** Six, a glitzy pop-rock concert musical starring the six wives of Henry VIII, has been on my personal list of top ten musicals since I saw it at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2019. That cast has gone to Broadway, but there’s a new group of queens in town – and they’re fabulous! I loved this new so much that I downloaded the soundtrack – and bought tickets to see it again! How’s that for a recommendation? I’m telling you, get your tickets today! 4 BIG Spotlights
Taking that old rhyme many of us learned in school, “divorced, beheaded, she died, divorced, beheaded, she survived,” as a starting point, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss wrote an exuberant musical celebrating six unlikely heroines – the wives of Henry VIII – or Ex-Wives as the very first song is titled. By the way, Moss also co-directs, with Jamie Armitage.
The ladies, Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon), Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever), Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg), Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donaldson), Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo), sing and dance their hearts out in a sort of contest – whoever had the worst life with Henry wins. Their songs were all different, with clever and frequently bawdy lyrics.
Catherine of Aragon channels pop diva Beyoncé with a rockin’ No Way. She sings about being sent from Spain to marry Prince Arthur, but he died, leaving her waiting around. Years later, she’s told to marry her dead husband’s brother, Henry, so she did. Between each of the Henry-related issues in her life, she belts out the catchy refrain, “No, no, no, no, no.” The song actually incorporates elements of a speech she made refusing the divorce.
Anne Boleyn is a modern young woman who doesn’t care that Henry already has a wife, she’s got him right where she wants him – besotted with her. It’s thought that Henry wrote Greensleeves for her, so her costume is green. She knows that if she can snag Henry her family will be set for life. As an ‘influencer’ (influenced by Avril Lavigne) she sings a hip hop-ish number, Don’l Lose Ur Head in which she texts and shoots selfies before she really does lose her head.
Jane Seymour, on the other hand, isn’t angry at Henry at all. As a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn she caught Henry’s eye. He sent her a gift of money which she refused. After Anne was beheaded, Henry pursued her, married her, and got her pregnant. She was sure Henry loved her as much as she loved him, so in an Adele-like ballad, Heart of Stone, she pays tribute to their true love. Since she died before she could ever hold her baby, she should win the contest.
All of the queens donned glowing white ruffs and sunglasses to sing Haus of Holbein, a laugh-out-loud look at German royalty and the artists who painted their portraits. In a brilliant parody of today’s dating apps, three Holbein portraits are presented to Henry. He marries Anna of Cleves but annuls the marriage because she didn’t look like her picture. In her song, Get Down, she explains that divorce was inevitable but she had a pre-nup! After the divorce, she settles down happily in a castle bought with her own money – without any men around to annoy her.
Katherine Howard was a lady-in-waiting to Anna of Cleves when she caught Henry’s eye. Starting at the age of thirteen, the powerful men in her life used and abused her. She was only seventeen when Henry married her, twenty-one when she was beheaded. In a song called All You Wanna Do, in the style of Brittany Spears or Ariana Grande, as she lists all the men in her life who objectified her, Henry was just another name on the list.
Catherine Parr didn’t want any part of a competition she thought was ridiculous. She explained that she’d had a life before Henry – and had one after he died. She’d been married, but her husbands both died. She’d just met someone, someone she thought she could love forever when Henry decided to marry her. In her song, I Don’t Need Your Love, she wrote a letter to her lover explaining about Henry. Oh well, she survived!
The other Queens wonder if they’re only famous because of Henry. Catherine asks if anyone know who Henry the VI married. When no one knew, she asked about Henry V, then Henry IV, but no one knew. In the final song, Six, they realize that they are only famous because there were six of them – but on the other hand, nobody would remember Henry except – six – so they start rewriting their herstory!
Carrie-Ann Ingrouille’s brilliant choreography is a major factor in the success of Six. The Queens are in constant motion, moving into ever-shifting patterns supporting and/or opposing each other.
Kudos to costume designer, Gabriella Slade (who also did the costumes for the Spice Girls 2019 tour) who designed six sparkly modern yet vaguely Tudor costumes, with a ruff here, a squared panier there, a puffed sleeve here, laces there. All the ladies had sparkly high-heeled boots too.
Their Ladies in Waiting aka the Band: Jo Ann Daugherty (Conductor/Keyboard), Janetta Goines (Bass), Rose Laguana (Guitar), and Paige Durr (Drums) also wear Tudor costumes while playing their hearts out.
Honestly, you’d have thought this was a major rock concert judging by the audience screaming and cheering for their favorite songs – singing along too! Lots of young women were wearing their own version of the Queens’ costumes or Katherine Howard’s pink hair.
Six runs through July 3rd at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago. There are multiple garages near CIBC Theatre. I recommend using a parking app to find the best prices in advance. Running time is 85 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2:00 & 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 & 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets range from $39-$119. FYI (800) 775- 2000 or www.BroadwayInChicago.com