“Remember us from PBS?,” Catherine of Aragon (the excellent Adrianna Hicks) cheekily asks the audience early on at the extremely entertaining “Six,” even though I doubt if many of the folks sitting inside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre are actually old enough to recall the classic 1970 miniseries “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.”
But truth be told, wherever you first learned about any of these legendary ladies –- whether it be from your high school history class or a beloved movie or TV show – be prepared to be schooled! The snappy sextet onstage is giving us a thoroughly modern take on the women who once wed England’s most notorious king.
Indeed, these semi-skimpily clad ex-monarchs (costumed colorfully by Gabriella Slade) are here not just to tell you their side of things, but to ask you to vote for the most deserving Queen of all: “The Queen who was dealt the worst/The Queen with the most hardships to withstand.” However, the fact that this mega-crowd-pleaser presents itself as a reality TV show come to life is only one reason “Six” will probably have a longer life on Broadway than most of these women did!
Indeed, it’s not just the format that makes “Six” so much – and such-needed -- fun. Visually, the show comes close to sensual overload thanks to Tim Delling’s inventive lighting design and Carrie-Anne Ingouille’s inspired choreography, which will literally have some audience members dancing in their seats. And the 80-minute length is just enough (perhaps even five or so minutes too much) in a time when our attention spans have considerably shortened.
Most importantly, though, the show relies on the consistent cleverness of the score by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (the latter of whom has co-directed the show of Jamie Armitage), starting with the infectious ditty “Ex-Wives.” Indeed, each number for these wronged women combines witty wordplay with the kind of catchy pop tune (superbly played by a killer four-woman band) that becomes an instant earworm – and each actress wisely takes full advantage of what she’s been given.
For example, Hicks’ Catherine of Aragon recounts her trials and tribulations in the soaring “No Way” shortly before her successor, the super-sassy Anne Boleyn (the teeny-tiny yet tremendously talented Andrea McAcasaet) tells us she’s “sorry/not sorry” in the highly comic “Don’t Lose Ur Head.” The strong-voiced Abby Mueller then beautifully belts out Jane Seymour’s heartfelt ballad “Heart of Stone,” followed by the excellent Brittney Mack as the Germanic-born Anna of Cleves (who was divorced for not being as pretty as her Hans Holbein portrait) who makes no apologies in the funky “Get Down,” before the stunning Samantha Pauly (reminiscent in look and style of Ariana Grande) scores strongly as fifth spouse Katherine Howard with the sizzling “All You Wanna Do.”
Ultimately, though, the show saves the best for last, when the fantastic Anna Uzele gets her star turn as Henry’s last -- and surviving -- wife Catherine Parr. Commanding the stage like a true queen, Uzele first kills us softly – then loudly – with the power ballad, “I Don’t Need Your Love,” in which she admits married Henry for sheer survival -- before empowering all the women to re-write “herstory” in the infectious “Six.”
Indeed, as this show playfully yet powerfully reminds us, history doesn’t care about as much about winners or losers as much as how well they played the game. The final tally here, not surprisingly, is SIX-love.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Abby Mueller, Brittney Mack, Samantha Pauly, Anna Uzele
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036