The Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents the North American premiere of the energetic pop-concert musical “Six” by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss featuring the story of the six wives of England’s 16th Century monarch Henry VIII.
The fate of the queens are apparently remembered by English school children using the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” which becomes the leitmotif of the opening number as the women introduce themselves to the audience.
A series of nine musical numbers centered around a common theme with virtually no dialog, this production is more of a pop-concert than what you think of as traditional musical theater.
Presented as a kind of musical competition, each of the “Six” wives takes turns telling her life story, including her relationship with the notorious Henry.
Designed to appeal to fans of established superstars each of the songs is fashioned in the style of one or more of the several contemporary female pop icons indicated in the program as the character’s “Queenspiration.”
Beginning with the mother of Queen Mary I, Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) famously never accepted her divorce from Henry which ultimately led to the creation of the Church of England. Her song “No Way” is described as a feminist dance anthem “queenspired” by Beyonce and Shakira.
Perhaps the most famous of the half dozen queens, Anne Boleyn who simultaneously lost her husband and her head, is played in perhaps the most quirky and humorous portrayal by Andrea Macasaet. Her song “Don’t Lose Ur Head” is queenspired by Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne.
Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller) died of a hemorrhage after the birth of her son who would become King Edward VI. Said to be the only wife Henry truly loved, she sings “Heart of Stone” queenspired by Adele and Sia.
Brittney Mack turns in a kind of German techno-hip-hop version of Anna of Cleves who Henry proposes to, based on a portrait painted by Hans Holbein. Upon meeting her, the King exclaims that he has been duped thus relegating her into the “divorced” column. She is given a lavish settlement and basically lives well. Her song, “Get Down” is queenspired by Nicki Minaj and Rihanna.
The apparently sensual and sexually active Katherine Howard, (Samantha Pauly) abused and manipulated by men in power since she was a child, married the 49 year old Henry at age 16 or 17 and was tragically beheaded aged 19 in the Tower of London on charges of adultery. She sings, “All You Wanna Do” queenspired by Ariana Grande and Britney Spears.
Survivor Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) is the last of the “Six” who winds up the biographical review with the powerful, “I Don’t Need Your Love” queenspired by Alicia Keys and Emeli Sande.
With choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille and costumes by Gabriella Slade, the “Six” queens are backed up by a four piece musical ensemble referred to as “The Ladies in Waiting” with assistant music director Julia Schade (keyboard/conductor), Kimi Hayes (guitars), Stacy McMichael (electric bass), and Sarah Allen (drums).
The set designed by Emma Bailey, lighting by Tim Deiling, and sound by Paul Gatehouse work to effectively transform The Yard at Shakespeare Theater into an intimate pop concert venue.
In the printed program, co-creator Toby Marlow (with Lucy Moss) says, “It was tricky to find a balance between trying to make [the music] sound like actual pop songs while also achieving the same level of storytelling and humor as our favorite theater songs.”
It is clear that the duo has achieved this goal. To my ear each of the songs has the potential to be a pop music hit on its own. In the end each of the songs reflects some aspect of the overall human experience with an important and timely female perspective.
“Six” debuted in Edinburgh Festival Fringe and currently enjoys an open-ended run in London’s West End. One might say that our Shakespeare Theater is a bit of London on the Lakefront.
In spite of humor that includes divorce, beheadings and miscarriages this is a well- produced, informative, thought provoking and energetically, uplifting production.
More concert than theater, this is a good date-night choice. The Navy Pier venue makes this easily accessible to tourists and will provide a memorable Chicago experience.
Though the pop-music idiom is broadly accepted and fairly universal at this point, “Six” will clearly appeal to a younger crowd.
Like the ever popular “Hamilton” the show has considerable potential educational value to junior-high and high-school students for both its historical content and as a theatrical experience.
Any opportunity to introduce younger people to live performance is a good idea. I would consider some of the sexual references to be “R” rated but likely no worse than what kids are hearing in the music they listen to routinely and certainly no worse than the events of the day if they happen to watch the news.
My companion asked me to add that she was happy there were no actual bloody beheadings or severed heads and that the musical volume was in an acceptable range that allows the listener to clearly hear the lyrics.
DETAILS: “Six” is at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier extended through Aug. 4, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For information call (312) 595-5600. or visit ChicagoShakes/Six.
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