SIX is more than just a musical; SIX is a phenomenon.
When I first let people know that I would be reviewing SIX: the Musical, a large percentage of the those I talked to would ask, “How many times have you seen it?”
The specifics of the question were lost on me at the time, but it all made sense once the lights went down in the theatre and the audience erupted into deafening applause, cheering, and screams that bordered on extasy. This is clearly a show people go to see multiple times.
SIX is a game changer. Like such groundbreaking musicals as RENT and Hamilton, SIX is utterly unique – something never before seen on a Broadway stage.
Now playing at the CIBC Theatre in Chicago, SIX: the Musical is an 80-minute theatrical concert experience. Running without an intermission, the show is a nonstop auditory and visual sensation.
At its core, SIX is a musical retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII with modern vernacular, dance, and music. The show is staged as a cross between a pop concert and an episode of American Idol but peppered with witty comedic dialog.
SIX had its world premier at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017. It features book, music, and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. It opened in U.K.’s West End in 2019 and on Broadway in the U.S. in 2020.
SIX won the Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Original Score – and deservingly so. The music is entirely unique, although the influences of Broadway shows like Chicago, Cabaret, RENT, and Hamilton are recognizable in the score. Ultimately, though, it is the influence of music from legendary pop stars that shines through most.
The concept is simple: the six wives of Henry VIII are participating in a singing competition like American Idol or America’s Got Talent. Each wife takes her turn lamenting the pain she suffered at the hands of good old Henry. The one who suffered the most will earn the right to be the lead singer of this rock star collection of ex-wives.
Each character has her own musical influences:
Catherine of Aragon is meant to stir emotions in the vein of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Hudson.
Anne Boleyn brings to life the influences of Avril Lavigne, Kate Nash, Miley Cyrus, and Lily Allen.
Jane Seymour offers up vocal riffs that will remind one of Adele, Sia, Rihanna, and Celine Dion.
Anna of Cleves evokes thoughts of Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Lorde, Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX.
Katherine Howard features a singing style that easily harkens thoughts of Britney Spears and Ariana Grande.
Catherine Parr draws inspiration from Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.
With the exception of Catherine Parr, Henry’s final wife, each of the women has been cast aside or died due to the actions of the husband they share in common. However, despite the dark material of beheadings and betrayal, the show has a fun tone.
Although told with a sense of playfulness, SIX: the Musical does have a message. It is a celebration of women and their influence in the world. These six women should not be known for being married to Henry VIII; rather it is Henry that should be known for being married to each of them.
The touring production of Six that is now playing in Chicago features an amazing cast. Khaila Wilcoxon plays Catherine of Aragon, Storm Lever plays Anne Boleyn, Jasmine Forsberg plays Jane Seymour, Olivia Donalson plays Anna of Cleves, Didi Romero plays Katherine Howard, and Gabriela Carrillo plays Catherine Parr. Cast alternates include Erin Ramirez, Cassie Silva, Kelsee Sweigard, and Kelly Denice Taylor.
Normally when I watch a musical, I end up with one or two favorite cast members who stand out above all the others. That is not the case with Six. Instead, I found myself enthralled by each individual performer. They are magnificent – both as an ensemble and in their individual moments in the spotlight.
I went into this show knowing very little about Henry VIII or his many wives. While the program takes great strides to try to prepare the audience for what they are about to see, some pre-show study will help in the enjoyment of the show.
I was fortunate enough to have a well-read amateur historian with me when I attended SIX. My tour guide talked me through the history of events that inspired the musical. The more you understand the true history, the more enjoyable the show is. However, the music and performances are enough to be thoroughly entertaining to theatre goers with no background in history.
Most theatrical reviews that offer a scale of appreciation only go up to five-star ratings. However, I give SIX: the Musical six stars – one for each of the stunning actresses who amaze the senses.
I’ve had several brushes with Broadway. I was in negotiations to star as Danny Zuko in the Jeff Calhoun directed revival of Grease, but ultimately decided to go to Chicago to headline Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. Then I had seven callbacks for the role of Roger in the Broadway production of RENT, but never got the final nod. Yet, my singing ability is nothing compared to what the six actresses in SIX accomplish each night. The vocalists in SIX: the Musical set a new bar for future Broadway hopefuls.
Keeping the theme of the importance of women in history, the band for SIX is all female, which I applaud. The “Ladies in Waiting” are Jo Ann Daugherty (conductor/keyboards), Janetta Goines (bass), Rose Laguana (guitars), and Paige Durr (drums). They totally rock.
The staff at the CIBC Theatre definitely set the stage for an enjoyable night at the theatre. All the ushers were extremely polite and helpful. Even the ushers who had to direct patrons to put their masks back on for the safety of the performers and other audience members, did so with charm and decorum.
Whether you are seeing SIX: the Musical on tour or on Broadway, it is a theatrical experience that will touch you, make you think, and have you rocking out in your seat. Six stars for SIX: the Musical.
Six: the Musical plays at Chicago’s CIBC Theatre through July 3, 2022. For tickets visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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