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Paulanne Simmons

Henry VIII’s Wives Make a Spectacle of Themselves in Six.

Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon, center) with (l-r) Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves), Andrea
Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr), & Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47 Street
From Sept. 17, 2021
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct 7, 2021

British musicals seldom come with a better pedigree than Six, the newest arrival from across the Atlantic. Written and composed by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (who co-directs with Jamie Armitage) while they were still students at Cambridge, a university founded in 1209 and granted a royal charter by Henry III in 1231, the pop musical tells of the trials and tribulation of the six wives of another Henry who became king more than two centuries later.

Six doesn’t exactly tell the stories of these three women. It puts them in a competition to win the hearts of the audience as the wife who suffered the most. It’s sort of a modern, musical version of a long-running television game show of the 40s and 50s in which each contestant tearfully described her financial and emotional problems and the audience voted on who would get to wear the velvet robe, sit on the throne, and receive a washing machine.

Fortunately, these six contestants don’t just tell their story. They sing and dance up a storm. “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived,” the opening number announces. But then each wife has a different take on her marriage, sung in the appropriate style (queenspiration) of a different pop artist. And they don’t wear velvet robes. They sport Gabriella Slade’s stunning 21st century interpretation of 16th century attire.

Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) was the first. She was betrayed by Henry and usurped by Anne Boleyn (the sassy Andrea Macasaet), but she managed to keep her head and die of natural causes. Song: “No Way” Queenspiraton: Beyoncé and Shakira.

Not so Anne, whose main claim to fame is that she was the mother of Elizabeth I, a fact that is unfortunately left of out of the musical. Song: “Don’t Lose Ur Head” Queenspiratation: Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne.

Jane Seymour (Mallory Maedke, alternate) seems to be the only one who really loved Henry, but that didn’t do her much good, as she died after giving birth to the unfortunate Edward. Song: “Heart of Stone” Queenspiraton: Adele and Sia.

Anna of Cleves (the show-stopping Brittney Mack) never had a chance. Henry chose her based on a portrait painted by Hans Holbein the younger. (“Haus of Holbein” is one of the musical’s triumphs.) But when the real Anna arrived, the king immediately experienced buyer’s regret. The marriage was annulled with a generous settlement. Song: “Get Down” Queenspiration: Nicki Minaj and Rihannna.

Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack, alternate) was not exactly a faithful wife. You really can’t blame her. Henry was not in great shape. But he was king, which made cheating treasonous. So she, or rather her head, went the way of Anne. Song: “All You Wanna Do” Queenspiration: Ariana Grande and Britney Spears.

Finally, Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) was a survivor. Not that she didn’t have her own troubles with Henry. But by this time, Henry was in his fifties, obese, and suffering from gout and ulcerated legs. Twenty-one years his junior, she merely outlived him. Song: “I Don’t Need Your Love” Queenspiration: Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.

Perhaps because Catherine survived Henry, she’s the one who can say to hell with this contest. We women shouldn’t be competing with each other; we should be supporting each other and celebrating ourselves for who we are rather than who we married.

It’s a worthy lesson and it gets a pretty decent song. But the glory of this musical is its glitter, not its guidance. The lyrics are clever. The beats are infectious. The six singing, dancing and wisecracking queens have energy, talent and, most important, stamina! Better to ignore the preaching and do what everyone’s been doing for the past hour – party!

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