Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Six
American Repertory Theater
Review by Nancy Grossman | Season Schedule (new)


Andrea Macasaet, Adrianna Hicks, Anna Uzele,
Abby Mueller, and Brittney Mack

Photo by Liz Lauren
A musical about the six wives of King Henry VIII, in the guise of a rock concert cum singing competition to determine who is the queen of the Queens, sounds like a mash-up aimed at a really small niche, and a theatrical piece that could be either ridiculous or sublime. After 80 minutes spent in the presence of these Queens, let the word go forth upon the land that Six is undeniably sublime, shining bright and colorful spotlights on these women whose fame has always been a consequence of the man they married and the (mostly tragic) outcome of their unions. Following its debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, a tour in the U.K., and productions in London's West End and at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Six launches the American Repertory Theater's 2019/20 Season at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge.

Co-creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss hit the jackpot with their first show, all the more remarkable considering that their theatrical inexperience was exacerbated by their youth (now 24 and 25, respectively). However, sometimes it pays off when you don't know what you don't know and you just go for it. There is certainly no paucity of fresh ideas or boldness in their approach to telling these stories. Each of the women is given the spotlight and the chance to sing in her own voice, albeit in the style of contemporary female artists. Structurally, it makes for an eclectic score that meets the requirement of musical theater songs to develop character and advance the plot, while also entertaining the audience with diverse pop tunes. Lack of familiarity with the "Queenspiration" singers does not diminish one's enjoyment upon hearing their distinctive sounds.

Moss also co-directs Six with Jamie Armitage and, along with their team of designers and the on-stage band, they produce a vibrant, kinetic theatrical experience. Everything is perfectly synchronized, with Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's creative choreography moving hand in glove with the music, lighting (Tim Deiling) cues matched crisply to movement and musical accents, and sound design (Paul Gatehouse) enabling consistently intelligible aural effects. The Ladies in Waiting (music director/conductor/keyboard, Julia Schade; bass/contractor, Kate Foss; guitars, Kimi Hayes; drums, Elena Bonomo) are extremely good musicians, and they play an important role as an all-female band backing up the Queens.

The Queens perform the opening song ("Ex-Wives") as an ensemble and provide some general exposition to set up the conceit of the show before each takes her star turn in historical order. Having prior knowledge of Henry and his wives is not necessary, but a simple mnemonic device about their fates can help keep the players straight: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), looking very royal in her sparkly gold attire, struts her stuff and channels Beyoncé and Shakira ("No Way"). Feisty Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet) steals the spotlight with her signature song, "Don't Lose Ur Head," which, of course, she did. Following the bright, bouncy offerings of her predecessors, Adele- and Sia-inspired Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), bathed in white spotlights, brings it down a few notches with her ballad about heartbreak, love and loss ("Heart of Stone"). Claiming to have been the only one Henry loved, she asks, "What's worse than a broken heart?" Boleyn quickly quips, "A severed head!"

Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack) prides herself on her sex appeal and shows off some great moves ("Get Down") evocative of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. "All You Wanna Do" is Katherine Howard's (Courtney Mack) tale of being used and abused by men in power, and her rendition sounds very much like a Britney Spears song. The sole survivor of the group, Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) sings of having to sacrifice her true love when she was chosen by the King ("I Don't Need Your Love"). Her intelligence and soulful sound are easily identifiable as being inspired by Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé. In addition to playing backup singers for each other, the Queens join forces midway through the show in a satirical song about women's beauty standards ("Haus of Holbein") and again for the final number, "Six."

Individually and collectively, the voices and attitudes of all six actors are topnotch. With a nod to costume designer Gabriella Slade for helping to define them, their characterizations are distinctive and well-rounded. As each takes her turn and believes that she is the most deserving competitor, there is plenty of humor and pathos on display, and no sooner does one vocalist threaten to blow the roof off, than the next one ups the ante. However, in a chorus of incredible voices, the last to be heard deserves special mention. Uzele has an indescribable something extra that brought the house down on opening night.

After challenging each other in song for over an hour, the Queens come to the realization that their notoriety is a result of being the six wives of Henry VIII, and nobody ever talks about the wives of any other Henry. While it temporarily deflates them, they gradually rise up and acknowledge that, regardless of that fact, they are remembered and they feel empowered to continue to tell their stories. Six is already slated for Broadway in February 2020, and judging by the audience reaction at the A.R.T., these Queens are going to rule the Great White Way.

Six, through September 29, 2019, at American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge MA. For information and tickets, call the box office at 617-547-8300 or visit www.americanrepertorytheater.org.

Written by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss; Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage; Choreography, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille; Music Supervision, Joe Beighton; Music Direction, Roberta Duchak; Orchestrations, Tom Curran; Scenic Design, Emma Bailey; Costume Design, Gabriella Slade; Lighting Design, Tim Deiling; Sound Design, Paul Gatehouse; Production Stage Manager, Alfredo Macias

Cast (The Queens, in historical order): Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Abby Mueller, Brittney Mack, Courtney Mack, Anna Uzele; Alternates: Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert, Mallory Maedke; Band (The Ladies in Waiting): Julia Schade, Kate Foss, Kimi Hayes, Elena Bonomo


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