Jacob Engdahl – Opinions Columnist
About two weekends ago during Fall Break, I was lucky enough to see the production of SIX at the Ordway with my girlfriend. She introduced me to SIX with the original West End studio album a couple years ago when it first released, and we’ve been fans of the musical ever since. So, when we heard it was coming to the Ordway in October as part of its second US tour, we were excited to go see it. Cheap tickets were available in the front row of the highest balcony, and we got a pretty comfortable seat with a great view. and we were treated to a great production of a great show that I’d love to see again next time it’s in town.
SIX is a musical that was released in 2017 in London’s West End and rapidly grew into a very popular show. The show focuses on the six wives of Henry VIII of England, and uses the popular mnemonic device “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived,” as a recurring motif. It has an abnormal structure for a musical, as it’s presented as if it were a concert that the audience was attending, which isn’t that far from the truth. Like a concert the fourth wall is nonexistent; the artist routinely talks to and interacts with the audience as a natural part of the show. It also has a very contemporary musical style, focusing on a genre pastiche of various types of contemporary pop music. This gives the musical a uniquely fun and modern feel which is more like attending a concert than a theatrical production. The contemporary feel and use of anachronism naturally draws comparisons to Hamilton, which is a pretty solid comparison point. It’s a modern pop-py look at the history of the culture the show comes from, attempting to raise awareness about a portion of that history which has been hitherto underserved.
The production value of this show is sky high. The costumes, lights, and set were amazing. I knew as soon as I saw the giant Tudor rose projected on the floor of the venue that there was something special coming. The costumes were carefully designed with a lot of fascinating references to the clothing of the early renaissance which the characters are meant to be from, keeping the whole show grounded in some sense of time, even as it plays wildly with anachronism. The structure resembling more a conventional concert means there is little in the way of props or complex sets. There’s just one stage on which the queens sing, but it makes up for this by being elaborately designed and constructed.
The characters are what really makes this show shine. They’re all written with distinct personalities and styles and all with an appropriate level of wit and charm. The cast for the Ordway production is I think my favorite of all the bootleg videos and studio recordings I’ve watched. Each queen has a unique musical style inspired by many different genres of pop. For instance, Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s Spanish first wife, is heavily influenced by Beyonce and Shakira. Anne Bolyne is given a pop punk/Avril Lavigne inspired sound, Jane Seymore sings a ballad a la Adele, Anne of Cleves gives a hip-hop number in the style of Niki Minaj, Katherine Howard is deeply tied into the sound of Beyonce, and Catherine Parr is heavily inspired by Alicia Keys. The ability to encompass these varying styles is an undoubted strength of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who wrote the book for the show. The show is in general just hilarious as well. Seeing it live with an audience is a magnetic experience because of how the jokes and audience interactions get the crowd excited and engaged. All the jokes land ten times harder than simply listening to the recordings, which are already in and of themselves hilarious. It’s just overall a musical crafted to be a wonderful viewing experience that is undoubtedly best live in a theater.
SIX is big, loud, fun, and funny. Unfortunately, its run at the Ordway has concluded so you won’t be able to catch this tour. But, the cast recordings are available on the Internet and at many shows they even encourage recording as a form of guerrilla marketing, so you can find lots of recordings of the stage on YouTube or other sites. Their second tour is only beginning; you can find the other tour dates and locations on their website. Their next destinations are Houston, TX and Tulsa, OK, so if you can catch them there or anywhere else on the tour, I highly recommend doing so. There will also be other tours in the future. The first tour was named “Aragon,” and the second is “Boleyn,” so it stands to reason there will be four more tours in the future. I hope you’ll check out SIX, and I hope if you do you’ll be able to also see them live sometime in the future.