WASHINGTON, D.C. – Six Tudor “roses” burst onto the stage with such fire and ferocity the audience breaks into cheers. From the opening number the cast of queens holds the audience in their thrall. Backed by a sizzling hot, three-piece band, the ex-wives of Henry the VIII seductively invite us to respond to their shout-outs to the crowd as they recount tales of their spousal experiences – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. It’s a quirky mnemonic learned by British schoolchildren to recall the fates of all six wives.
It seems a quantum leap to take that device and turn it into a pop slash hip-hop slash rap musical, but it is what it is and as such it becomes the vehicle for female empowerment. Based on their individual experiences, they regale us with the cruelties and vagaries of a notorious king. But, as we all know, payback’s a bitch. Suffice it to say the from the get-go the audience is in on the fun… and what fun this crazy, amazing show is!
Here’s what I wasn’t expecting. SIX The Musical is a pop music concert – a flashy, splashy, glam and glitzy, rap concert with nine memorable numbers that toggle back and forth betwixt the wives’ accounts of what they suffered under the king’s edicts. Laid out as a contest for the audience to offer a final vote on which of the ladies suffered the worst injustices and penultimate punishments, they each make their case in a mix of street-smart jargon and Valley Girl slang. It’s “herstory” against “his-story” and now’s their chance to come back from the grave with a royal vengeance to weigh in. Breaking the fourth wall to appeal to the audience, the Queens settle their scores with song and dance while vying to win our vote. As these divas say, they have “the riffs to ruffle your ruffs”.
In sequential order we hear from Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon) who channels Beyoncé and Shakira in “No Way” to Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever) whose inspiration is Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne in “Don’t Lose Ur Head” to Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg) in “Heart of Stone” who is inspired by Adele and Sia to rap/sing her story, to fourth wife Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) in “Get Down” whose “Queenspirations” are Nicki Minaj and Rihanna to Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) with “All You Wanna Do” who nails a combination of Ariana Grande and Britney Spears, and lastly, survivor Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo) with the killer ballad “I Don’t Need Your Love” and whose avatars are Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.
With book, music and lyrics by Tony Marlow and Lucy Moss and directed by Lucy Moss, SIX has garnered a total of 23 awards including the Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the show’s album has reached stratospheric streaming heights in its first month.
Originally performed in England by the Cambridge Musical Theatre Society, the costumes are sensational, the lighting is laser-sharp and the onstage band is on point. And although I thought I heard shades of Madonna in the Catherine of Aragon character and Lizzo in Donalson’s portrayal of Anne of Cleves, you will no doubt detect the vocal stylings of some of your own favorite pop stars.
Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Scenic Design by Emma Bailey, Costume Design by Gabriella Slade, Lighting Design by Tim Deiling, Sound Design by Paul Gatehouse and Orchestrations by Tom Curran.
Through September 4th at National Theatre DC, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.com or call the box office at 202 628-6161.
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