By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
Taking their regal cues from the likes of pop music royalty Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Avril Lavigne and Jennifer Lopez, the “Six” queens of Henry VIII took up residence at the Saenger Theater on Tuesday night, beginning their reigns for a busy six days of performances which will end unceremoniously on Sunday night, Dec. 4.
The brainchild of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six: The Musical began its coronation on the stage of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 as a student project. Selling out its entire run, the show was fleshed out further in a larger Edinburgh Fringe venue the following year, where it once again was a certified hit.
It wasn’t long after that versions took off in London’s West End, in Chicago at a pre-Broadway out-of-town residence and, in an unusual setting, at sea aboard three Norwegian Cruise Lines ships.
All of these shows were leading to the royal Broadway bow of Six: The Musical at the Brooks Atkinson Theater (since renamed the Lena Horne Theatre). The date set was March 12, 2020, the very day Broadway theaters were shuttered due to the COVID pandemic.
It took another 570 days for the official opening to occur last fall, but when it did Broadway audiences responded enthusiastically. Even with no intermission and a short running time of only 75 minutes, Six: The Musical continues to pack in crowds with a box office gross of more than $1 million per week.
The musical is more a pop concert than a traditional Broadway offering. The highly stylized and glitzy production is marked by a colorfully coordinated light show that begins with stage smoke and a dropped royal purple curtain as the six figures are introduced, one by one according to the manner of their deaths: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”
The initial song “Ex-Wives” serves two purposes. Aside from introductions of the six queens, it briefly gives each of them a back story. The concept at the onset is that the six ex-wives have been brought back to New Orleans to allow them to compete and allow the audience to determine who had the roughest royal reign.
There are two additional group selections in which they sing together: “Haus of Holbein” midway through the work and the concluding number “Six.” Each of the queens has her own signature solo song, which oftentimes has backup vocals and supporting choreography from the other queens. This review reflects the stars seen on the opening night of its tour in New Orleans.
Geraianne Pérez played Catherine of Aragon, the first of the wives, who related her tale of woe. Catholic and imprisoned for seven years before being selected by Henry to bear him an heir, Catherine claimed to have been faithful to Henry. Only he didn’t return the favor. She pointed to Anne Boleyn as the object of Henry’s infidelity and claimed there were many others. Her song “No Way,” reminiscent of Beyoncé, was sung with flashing red and orange lighting evocative of her rage.
Zan Berube played Anne Boleyn in pink with wonderful comic timing. In an homage worthy of Avril Lavigne or Miley Cyrus, Berube sang “Don’t Lose Ur Head” with its repetitive chorus “Sorry…not sorry!”
Cecilia Snow was in for Amina Faye in the role of Jane Seymour, the only wife Henry truly loved. Snow was a knockout in the role with a ballad similar in style to Adele or Celine Dion. The sustained applause for her solo number stopped the show in its tracks.
The six queens collaborated in “Haus of Holbein” in which they humorously suggest the artist Holbein deliberately misled the king in his depiction of Anna of Cleves. The selection gave new interpretation to swiping left or right as the first two suggestions did not make the cut.
Eventually, Jana Larell Glover launched into her song as Anna. Glover was in for regular performer Terica Marie. With her crimson red and black outfit, Glover commanded attention as “the queen of the castle” in “Get Down.”
The second of the two queens who were beheaded was Katherine Howard, noted as the Katherine of little consequence. Taylor Pearlstein played the role usually played by Aline Mayagoitia and her take downs of the other queens was done with biting commentary. The song “All You Wanna Do” is a highly sexualized number that reminds one of a performance that might be done by Ariana Grande or the Brittany Spears of yesteryear.
The final queen represented was Catherine Parr, who was played by Sydney Parra. Her selection “I Don’t Need Your Love” is a song which relates how she was forced to give up the love of her life in order to marry the king. She persuades the others that they shouldn’t identify themselves as wives of the king, but should laud their own accomplishments in life.
When they all return to sing the finale “Six,” there is a recognition that competing against each other brings them all down to Henry’s level. Instead, they look to soar on their own, – individually and collectively – as they quickly update their own solo numbers prior to returning to “Ex-Wives.”
This production will bring joy to the millennials as well as to the GenY and GenZ groups, but any true musical theater lover – even Baby Boomers – will find the production values very high. While the style of music is decidedly more pop and hip hop than some may like, the clever conceit of the show and the talented ensemble will enchant many more audience members than those who might be turned off.
Jamie Armitage directed the production along co-creator Lucy Moss. The inventive choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille is spectacular along with impressive lighting and sound designs by Tim Dieling and Paul Gatehouse, respectively. Costuming is an important part of the mix with styles that might have been worn by J-Lo or Beyoncé in a Las Vegas concert.
Music onstage was provided by The Ladies in Waiting: Sterlyn Termine (bass), Liz Faure (guitars), Caroline Moore (drums) with Katie Coleman conducting and on keyboards.
Six: The Musical by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow (75 minutes with no intermission) continues at the Saenger Theater, 1111 Canal Street, in New Orleans now through Sun., Dec. 4. For tickets click here or call 504-525-1052.