An 80-minute pop concert feminist re-telling of the six wives of King Henry VIII? Count me in! Even though I had heard the hype and some of the songs from the album (along with little snippets on TikTok), SIX felt remarkably refreshing.
The musical was conceived and created by two students in the midst of final exams at Cambridge University (This truly astounds me as I can barely find time to study enough for finals during finals season let alone write a brand new musical…). The six ex-wives of Henry VIII are modeled after contemporary music icons such as Beyonce, Adele, and Ariana Grande. They tell their stories through their own eyes in an “American Idol”-style competition where the supposed winner is chosen on the basis of best vocal chops and most traumatic life experience…Spoiler alert***The competition combusts when the wives realize their greater power as one—uniting in song and story to reclaim their metaphorical voices and rewrite
SIX is truly a breath of fresh air…Original music, contemporary comedy and references, hypnotic choreography, elaborately bedazzled costuming, an all-female cast and band, and a story that is both familiar and also makes you reconsider the lens through which you learned. I have heard from some that SIX is “a fun concert but nothing too deep.” I disagree. We often see two types of musicals—those that are wonderfully entertaining but not much more than sparkle, spectacle, and a happily-ever-after, and those that smack you in the face with a reality check, pulling the rug out from under you and making you rethink your entire existence. Then, you have those few shows who figure out the middle gray area—those gems that draw you into their world, wrap you up in song and dance and maybe even some showmance, and empower you—the audience—to come up with your own questions, conversations, and realizations.
It should come as no surprise that—for me—a show’s dancing greatly impacts its…well, impact. In her Broadway debut, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography in SIX is contemporary, playful, and magnetic. The six leading ladies (who each have Grammy-worthy voices) all have to dance Ingrouille’s intricate ‘ography. While it’s not athletic or expansive (as the women have to dance while holding a hand-held mic and belting their faces off), the movement is precise, detailed, and incredibly musical. It’s TikTok-esque (I mean this as a compliment) in that the dance is contained but fully expressive, flirty but strong, united but individualized.
Though captivating and fresh, the concert-like aesthetic of SIX didn’t gel quite right in the beautiful Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The electronic sound, constantly moving neon lights, and frequent call-and-response moments seemed to rile up half the crowd but isolate the rest. I wonder if one day SIX could perform in a big concert venue like Madison Square Garden, go all out with lights and sound and spectacle, and include an ensemble of female back-up dancers executing Ingrouille’s choreography at 110% without the constraints of hand-held mics or having to sing impressive high notes and harmonies. In fact, let’s manifest this: complete with the six wives cast as the pop celebs their characters were originally inspired by…Shakira, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Nicki Minaj, Sia, and Alicia Keys. MTV, are you listening?
Yes, SIX is trendy and memorable and somewhat over-the-top. The songs are catchy, the dances somewhat imitable (and, as I said, TikTok-friendly), and the experience extremely engaging. But just because a show is fun and digestible doesn’t mean it lacks impact. The fusion of historical time periods, musical genres, lighting effects, and modern vernacular brought up a lot of big questions for me…Why are we not taught the stories of these six relatable women in European History class? Why does it feel ‘normal’ for women to be in competition with each other like on a reality show? In what ways have gender roles shifted since the 16th century and where are they stuck? How does telling your own story in your own words change the narrative? How does listening to conflicting or complex stories change your perspective? Maybe some audiences come away thinking SIX is “fun but not terribly deep.” Or maybe the show’s impact is that you don’t realize how much it affects, inspires, and entertains you with a story that you only thought you knew.