Six: The Musical — A Theatrical Digression

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We usually stick to historical movies and TV because that’s our charter. But occasionally we venture out of our West Coast domiciles and hit the theater, or at least I have recently, and due to popular demand, I’m reviewing one of my excursions. Last month, I saw Six: The Musical in London at the Arts Theater and had a blast! This is a 75-minute musical about the six wives of Henry VIII — all from the ladies’ point of view.

Six: Musical (2019), photo by Trystan L. Bass

Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard, Catherine Parr, Anna of Cleves, & Anne Boleyn (I took this photos the finale, when the cast encourages the audience to do so).

The setup has all six queens performing a concert together, and each one is competing to see who is the ‘best’ because she had the ‘worst’ time with Henry. They sing a song about their suffering and trials (sometimes literal), and while that sounds kind of pathetic at first, the performances and lyrics turn the received history on its head. Each queen’s song shows the woman taking matters into her own hands, and she asserts her own place in history and (literally) has a powerful and surprisingly nuanced voice.

Catherine of Aragon’s song “No Way” has a Beyoncé-like riff as she is the most take-charge of the queens. Anne Boleyn’s ultra-pop, social-media referencing adorable “Don’t Lose Ur Head” reminded me of a Taylor Swift song. The sappy ballad “Heart of Stone” by Jane Seymour was my least favorite — it smelled of Celine Dion, and the lyrics were all about how Seymour was truly in love with Henry, ew. But then there was the HI-LAR-IOUS “Haus of Holbein” bit with fluorescent neon ruffs (the only big nod to period costuming, and a decade off at that). Followed by Anna of Cleves doing a raunchy Rihanna-esque number called “Get Down” that has the catchy “I’m the queen of the castle” line that’s been stuck in my head ever since. Katherine Howard follows up dressed in homage to Ariana Grande, singing “All You Wanna Do,” which sounds like a clever pop song, but the lyrics are an insightful look at power dynamics and sexual abuse. The survivor Catherine Parr wraps up the story a la Mariah Carey with “I Don’t Need Your Love,” bringing all six queens together. They moral of the story is they don’t need Henry to frame their stories around — they can be their own individual women. The soundtrack can be found on iTunes, Spotify, etc., so check it out!

Much like Broadway’s Hamilton, the casting is color-blind and inclusive, which reinforces the impact of the songs IMO. The night I saw the show, a curvy Asian woman kicked ass as Anne Boleyn and I personally appreciated the hell out of that. And the show lets the audience be part of the show by allowing photos and filming of the finale, so here’s my iPhone recording for y’all:

As you can see from this clip, the costumes are NOT meant to be historically accurate. These are rock/pop concert outfits first, with little nods towards the historical figure second. It works in context, especially when they’re singing and dancing.

Six: Musical (2019), photo by Idil Sukan

“Haus of Holbein” ruffs, not accurate for the Tudor court, but it’s a good gag for musical theater. Photo by Idil Sukan

Six: Musical (2019), photo by Idil Sukan

Catherine of Aragon’s bodice & skirt shape does reference a Tudor gown. Photo by Idil Sukan

Six: Musical (2019), photo by Idil Sukan

Promo pic showing the main cast. Photo by Idil Sukan

 

Would you see Six if it tours in your town?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

19 Responses

  1. Sam Marchiony

    Six may be my favorite musical, like, EVER, to the point where it’s actually the subject of my master’s thesis. So glad you’re sharing the love!

    Reply
  2. Kate

    Two of my favorite things: Frock Flicks and Six! So glad you stepped outside of the usual TV and movies to cover this one! I’m dying to see it when it hits Broadway this spring!

    Reply
  3. Guest

    I like the melodies, but I loathe how the musical made “stupid Anne Boleyn” a thing, I didn’t think there was a version of Anne I hated more than Gregory’s, but this one might be it

    Reply
    • Sam Marchiony

      She’s not ACTUALLY stupid, she’s playing into the perception people held of her as stupid.

      Reply
      • Guest

        But she was seen as clever? Anne was given an extremely good education for a courtier’s daughter, she was smart.
        The musical had her say “politics, not my thing”, when Anne was passionate about the reformation, and went against Cromwell politically when it came to how to spend the money from the monasteries. Politics was one of the reasons she was killed, so I just find it disrespectful to remove that, and make her seem actually guilty of adultery by having her sing “maybe I’ll flirt with a guy or three just to make him jel”, and have that be the reason for her losing head.

        It might not have been the writer’s intention, they might even have written it as a joke, but many who don’t care about historical facts but have seen the musical now think Anne Boleyn was stupid, you only need to look up the musical or Anne Boleyn at sites like tumblr or twitter to see that.

        Reply
        • Sam Marchiony

          Yeah, well, I’ve actually seen the musical, and that is NOT true. You don’t get the full picture if you just listen to the cast album, she has one of the smartest lines in the show towards the end. Her seeming dumb is part of an act meant to present her as an irreverent bad girl, like Avril Lavigne or Lily Allen, while also trying to evoke sympathy from the audience in order to get them on her side so that she can claim the prize of being the band’s leading lady. I promise you, the fandom you’re seeing on Twitter and Tumblr is very much in on the entirety of the musical, not just the recording, it’s one big inside joke to us.
          “Don’t Lose Ur Head” is a carefully crafted, selective version of her history that rings true to some key facts. She was absolutely one of the best educated women of her time, but that hasn’t been a central focus of her depiction in pop culture, where her sexuality is more often the focus, and moreover, politics were very much NOT her thing originally. She came to Henry’s court hoping to make a good marriage according to her station, not planning to become history’s most infamous homewrecker. That’s something she was pushed into by the men in her life, her father, her uncle, and Henry.
          The real line you need to focus on is “what was I meant to do?” It seems coy, but she has a point. She arguably did exactly what she was meant to do, she flirted with Henry because filial piety required it of her, she held out against Henry’s advances for years because she knew it wasn’t right, but she had to cave eventually because he was the king, and he wanted her. He left her with no other choice. And even in the song, it clearly wasn’t just about her being close to other men, it was about the fact that she didn’t meekly put up with affairs and behaved in ways that undermined him. The qualities about her that made Henry fall for her were the same ones that made him eventually hate her (along with failing to give him the son he wanted).
          And one more thing: Her imagined ‘happy ending’ in the final song is ALL about her intelligence; she turns Henry down, takes ‘Greensleeves’ and turns it into her own song, becoming a famous performer who eventually worked with Shakespeare.

          Reply
  4. Claire

    I am excited as it was announced last week it’s coming to Australia next year. Definitely interested in going.

    Reply
  5. Alyssa

    Theater posts, fckyeah!!! I’ve been obsessed with “Six” and am so happy to see you liked it :)

    Reply

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