The queens belt out a song in a typically high-energy moment from the North American Six Aragon Tour. (Photos by Joan Marcus)
By Richard Ades
No doubt about it. Columbus was ready for Six. That’s clear not only from the touring production’s sold-out status, but from the whoops and cheers that greeted Tuesday night’s opening. It was reminiscent of the wildly enthusiastic response Rent encountered when that musical phenomenon made its local premiere decades ago.
For those not yet familiar with Six, the concert-style musical centers on the six wives of England’s King Henry VIII, women whose various fates are summarized by the words “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” So, much like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s megahit Hamilton, Six is a musical take on history.
That, however, is where the resemblance ends.
While Hamilton uses its rapped and sung songs to explain and humanize an American “founding father,” Six creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss turn the 16th century tale of Henry and his wives into a celebration of what was once called “girl power.” It’s all presented in the form of a pop concert accompanied by a spunky onstage band and glitzed up with sparkly costumes and flashy lighting (designed, respectively, by Gabriella Slade and Tim Deiling).
From the start, the six “queens” set the vibe by strutting, striking poses and inviting the audience to “Make some noise, Columbus!” They then introduce the premise: The women will compete against each other to see who had the saddest life, with the winner being elevated to leader of their vocal sextet.
Proceeding in chronological order, each character then summarizes her fate in a song while the others accompany her with backup harmonies and dance steps choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. First up is original wife Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon), followed by Anne Boleyn (normally played by Storm Lever but ably portrayed by Cassie Silva on opening night). Rounding out the six are Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg), Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson), Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo).
Jasmine Forsberg plays Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour.
All of the songs are performed with verve and skill, but the big showstopper is Jane Seymour’s romantic lament “Heart of Stone,” partly because it offers a change of pace from the normally fast-moving production, and mostly because it’s gorgeously sung by Forsberg.
So which queen deserves the prize? That’s a red herring, actually, as the musical eventually admits its real purpose is not to pit the women against each other but to honor them as individuals. Of course, this profession of feminine solidarity comes only after the women have spent most of the show’s 80 minutes pelting each other with catty putdowns that account for much of its humor.
A bigger problem with the musical’s feminist theme is that these women, whose historical counterparts often dealt with complicated religious and political issues, are largely reduced to shallow, one-dimensional characters. A prime example is Anne Boleyn, an educated and accomplished individual who was involved in England’s break with the Catholic Church and who ultimately was executed on the pretext that she’d had affairs, though it was more likely because she’d failed to give Henry a male heir. Here, she’s portrayed as a party girl who cheerfully admits to the alleged dalliances, saying, “I’m just trying to have some fun.”
Such concerns are unlikely to keep anyone from becoming a Six fan. The show still boasts enough catchy tunes, colorful sights and relentless energy to keep viewers entertained. As a reflection of history, though, it’s like a fancy dessert: pretty and tasty, but not very filling. If you want a main course, see Hamilton.
Broadway in Columbus will present Six through Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St., Columbus. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission). Tickets are mostly sold out. For information visit CBUSarts.com or call 614-469-0939. For information on future tour stops, visit sixonbroadway.com/north-american-tours.