One of the Cleverest, Wittiest, Flashiest Shows You May Ever See!
COSTA MESA — JUNE 14, 2023
Welcome to “SIX,” the ferocious, feminist, and fun historical musical about the six wives of Henry VIII. But this isn't exactly your mother's Philippa Gregory novel. These women have been gossiped about incessantly in both fiction and academic circles over the past 500 years. But this version of the tale gives you a very fresh take on the notorious King’s love life in one of the cleverest, wittiest, flashiest shows you may have ever seen. At times, the vibe becomes so contagious that it may float you out of your very seat.
No, musical theater is not just about the founding fathers anymore. With “SIX,” Lucy Moss (writer/co-director), Toby Marlow (writer) and Jamie Armitage (co-director) celebrate the lives of six Tudor-era ex-wives of one of the most famous Kings of all time — British monarch Henry VIII, AKA - Henry of Winchester, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine. At this point, resistance is futile: The Queens are a forcefield. Ditto the score, and its glorious onslaught of power ballads, pile-driving punk numbers, electropop day-glo ravers and Spice Girl realness, all mixed into a compilation of head-banging, hair-whipping, foot-stomping, twerk-worthy, uptown funky pop-rock.
In developing the characters, writers Marlow and Moss were inspired by several real-life pop stars who were used as a composite and musical inspiration for the characters. Catherine of Aragon is modelled after a mix of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Hudson; Anne Boleyn has elements of Miley Cyrus, Avril Lavigne and Lily Allen; Jane Seymour is reminiscent of Adele, Sia and Celine Dion; Anna of Cleves was a mixture of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna; Katherine Howard is a blend of pop stars Britney Spears and Ariana Grande; and Catherine Parr is inspired by Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.
So then, how do you go about celebrating six women who are remembered only because of the man they married? There’s not a lot of room for empowerment in a narrative about characters whose lives were proscribed and mostly denounced by one of the most violently patriarchal societies this side of Margaret Atwood’s Gilead. Yet, stuffed with clever turns of rhyme and catchy pastiche melodies that let mega-voiced singers toss off impressive riffs, these historical wives choose not to turn away from their personal misery or misfortune, but tackle their kismet head-on in song. And ohhhh, what songs!
But everyone knows you can’t spin a beheading (Anne Boleyn), a lifetime of sexual assault (Katherine Howard), being forced as a child to travel across the world to marry a complete stranger more than twice your age (Catherine of Aragon), dying in childbirth (Jane Seymour) or being rejected for being mediocre (Anna of Cleves). As genres go, musicals are usually inherently uplifting, no matter the grimness of their subject matter. But with “SIX,” which opened last night in Costa Mesa at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the creators have not tried to spin anything.
Instead, they give the all-woman cast, which includes an onstage 4-piece band, a powerhouse score that offers everyone on stage a shot at mastering her own story. Primarily, the Tony Award® winning “SIX” is a gleefully anachronistic party that celebrates sheer survival, and sometimes not, and lays bare the barbaric way they were used. All done up in a satirical, wisecracking, Taylor-Swift-pop-style manner.
"SIX" frames its story as a makeshift talent competition in which the wife whose life was most tragic “wins.” The rules are simple: “The queen who was dealt the worst hand … shall be the one to lead the band.” Each wife sings a solo summarizing her experiences, engaging in acerbic banter in between verses.
We start with a litany of woes from Catherine of Aragon (normally played by Khaila Wilcoxon, but alternately played Tuesday night by Kelly Denice Taylor), who was forced to live with Anne Boleyn (normally played by Storm Lever, but alternately played Tuesday night by Erin Ramirez), the wife who replaced her. Ms. Taylor blows the stage open with “No Way,” a number that’s pure adrenalin rush, all heat and light and rage in the service of a beat “so sick it’ll give you gout.”
When Ms. Taylor goes for the stratosphere with a high “C” (a pitch humans are not built to reach) she soars. And when she raps about the Old Testament book of Leviticus, it’s like she’s throwing down a gauntlet. Catherine was disregarded as women were at the time, and clearly cheated on. Being divorced, especially as she was a fervent Catholic, was the straw that broke the camel's back. “Had my golden rule / Gotta keep my cool, yeah, baby." No matter what Henry threw at her, she never showed anger or sorrow — right up until Henry said he wanted an annulment.
Ms. Taylor is followed by Ms. Ramirez’ Lolita-like sorry/not sorry take on Anne Boleyn in “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” with the audaciously confident refrain of a millennial who has no shame for making the most of bad choices, including Henry’s split with the church (“Everybody chill! It’s totes God’s will!”). A major reason Henry turned against her was that, even though she bore him a daughter, she failed to give him a son. Yet, Erin Ramirez’ Anne Boleyn, who thinks the folk song “Greensleeves” was written about her, is absolutely hilarious. With facial expressions and sarcastic comments throughout the show, she has the audience crying with laughter every time she opens her mouth. "OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, HE'S REALLY GONNA CHOP MY HEAD OFF!"
Next, Natalie Paris’ “Heart of Stone,” a 12-hankie barn-burner, shows off her gorgeous tone and power. As Jane Seymour, Ms. Paris is almost motionless throughout the song, standing in a pool of light that puts the focus solely on her extraordinary vocals. She literally stops the show without so much as a dance break. By her own admission, she lacks the fire of the other Queens; the only way she could deal with Henry's temper was to face it and love him regardless.
She’s followed by the hallucinatory “Haus of Holbein,” an all-hands number that combines the off-the-wall giddiness of an after-hours rave and a blistering commentary on Tudor-era beauty norms that required women to lace themselves into body-deforming corsets and/or slather their faces with poisonous lead-based powder. Ms. Paris’ “Heart of Stone” is emotionally eviscerating. But “Haus of Holbein” is the party you need after the evisceration.
Following that, there’s the attitude-driven “Get Down,” in which Olivia Donalson as Anna of Cleves urges all the Queens to “get in (Re)formation.” Anna, out of all the others, got the best deal –- divorced from Henry with a large settlement to boot. Ms. Donalson commands the stage as she makes a show of complaining about living in a beautiful palace in Richmond with an enormous fortune and no man to tell her how to spend it. But then, suddenly, Anna admits her lavish lifestyle lacked actual tragedy (she lived to the ripe old age of 42, most probably dying of cancer) and drops out of the competition. "Oh, well. Back to the palace!"
As Katherine Howard, Courtney Mack takes center stage with “All You Wanna Do,” a harrowing description of lifelong (she was still a teenager when she died) sexual assault where she manages to combine sex, sass and sensitivity in a beautiful but bittersweet delivery. Ms. Mack makes Katherine’s optimism heartbreaking — after each rape, she’s convinced that this time, it’s true love. When she reaches the point where denial is no longer possible, it’s then just heart-wrenching. Her signature color is pink, and she prides herself on her sexual promiscuity... before realizing that men only wanted her for sex.
And Gabriela Carrillo’s unique soulful tone is executed brilliantly as Catherine Parr, “the Queen who survived,” by outliving him. Catherine’s Dear John letter in song, “I Don’t Need Your Love,” describes the letter she had to write to her sweetheart after Henry proposed. Four times married herself (the third one to Henry), she was a pioneer in book publishing and education. She's the sole one who doesn't get caught up in the fight despite the fact she's the one who organized the whole thing.
Throwing a spotlight on the incredible “ladies in waiting,” the onstage all-girls group includes drummer Paige Durr, guitarist Rose Laguana and bass player, Janetta Goines, with conductor and keyboardist Valerie Maze.
Gabriella Slade's 16th century glam outfits are sparkling, jewel-encrusted multi-signifiers: both midriff-baring sexy, but also sharp and stiff like armor; these doomed damsels are going to war. Tim Deiling's stadium-raking lights set the perfect rock concert vibe, and Paul Gatehouse's ace sound design makes sure we get every funky bass lick, as well as each goofy pun. Primed by nine inexhaustibly catchy songs, this is a sextet with a sound beyond reproach. Co-directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, SIX is a glossy, well-engineered Fringe stunt made good.
SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS & KENNY WAX, WENDY & ANDY BARNES, GEORGE STILES & KEVIN MCCOLLUM, in Association with CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER, PRESENTS, SIX, THE MUSICAL (@sixustour); by TOBY MARLOW & LUCY MOSS; Orchestrations by TOM CURRAN; Directed by LUCY MOSS & JAMIE ARMITAGE; Choreographed by CARRIE-ANNE INGROUILLE; Musical Direction by VALERIE MAZE; Scenic Design by EMMA BAILEY; Automation/Show Control by HUDSON SCENIC STUDIO; Lighting Design by TIM DEILING; Sound Design by PAUL GATEHOUSE; Costume Design by GABRIELLA SLADE; Production Stage Manager MOLLY MEG LEGAL; Stage Manager JAY CAREY.
WITH: KHAILA WILCOXON as Catherine of Aragon • STORM LEVER as Anne Boleyn • NATALIE PARIS as Jane Seymour • OLIVIA DONALSON as Anna of Cleves • COURTNEY MACK as Katherine Howard • GABRIELA CARRILLO as Catherine Parr • MARILYN CASERTA • KELSEE KIMMEL • ERIN RAMIREZ • CASSIE SILVA • KELLY DENICE TAYLOR •
*FOR OPENING NIGHT PERFORMANCE: KELLY DENICE TAYLOR was on as Catherine of Aragon, and ERIN RAMIREZ was on as Anne Boleyn.
THE LADIES IN WAITING: VALERIE MAZE – Conductor/Keyboard; JANETTA GOINES – Bass; ROSE LAGUANA – Guitars; PAIGE DURR – Drums; Associate Music Director – ANGELA CHAN
“SIX THE MUSICAL” runs June 13th through June 25th with performances in Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 7:30PM; and Sundays at 1PM and 6PM. Performances are 1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased at www.scfta.org/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Andrew Eccles