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Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. The famous rhyme takes on a new life as the basis of “Six,” a musical reimagining of the six wives of King Henry VIII as they battle to emerge as the leader of a new pop girl group. Upending the conventional theatergoing experience, the queens of “Six” took the stage at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre on Nov. 16 for a dazzling, but ultimately superficial, celebration of female empowerment.
“Six” forgoes the traditional musical format and is instead staged as a pop concert for the new and aptly named group “Six,” made up of the six ex-wives of Henry VIII. The queens immediately break the fourth wall, informing the audience that they will be tasked with determining which one of them has the most tragic backstory and will therefore be named leader of the new girl group. From there, the queens take turns performing musical numbers telling their tragic backstories and making their case to become the group’s star.
The first queen to tell her story, Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon) serves as the sextet’s de facto leader after singing the jealousy-tinged anthem “No Way.” The spunky Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever) follows with the fan-favorite “Don’t Lose Ur Head” before Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg) delivers the sole somber moment of the show with the power-ballad “Heart of Stone.” Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) performs the most genuine display of feminism in the show, reclaiming her freedom during “Get Down.” While Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) and Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrilo) round out the sextet with “All You Want To Do” and “I Don’t Need Your Love.” The final track leads the queens to abandon their competition and reclaim their stories, rewriting their histories as happy endings.
If you’ve spent any time on TikTok in the last two years, you’ve heard the music of “Six.” Clips from “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” “All You Want To Do,” and “Haus of Holbein” have all been used in hundreds of thousands of TikTok videos and can easily be mistaken for hits from your favorite female pop stars. With a runtime under 90 minutes and no intermission, the musical consists of just nine songs. But with each track bringing a distinct and catchy pop sound, there's still plenty of crowd pleasers to entertain throughout.
The surprise stunner of the show was Jasmine Forsberg as Jane Seymor. Forsberg faced an uphill battle in winning over the audience. While the other five queens are given flashy dance numbers, spunky personalities, and intricate stage production during their solo numbers, Jane Seymor is pigeon-holed as the boring queen. “Heart of Stone” is the only ballad in the musical and could easily be an energetic low. Couple that with her comparatively plain costume, less tragic backstory, and simple staging, and Jane Seymour is set-up to be the most lackluster queen. Yet despite the odds stacked against her, Forsberg delivers a show-stopping vocal performance earning the biggest and longest applause of the night.
With a solid tracklist and intriguing premise, “Six” has the potential to bring something fresh and new to the theater-going experience. The short, concert-based format creates a unique and interactive viewing experience and opens up Broadway to new audiences. The songs are modern, catchy, and upbeat, with a heartwarming and kid-friendly message of female empowerment.
But it’s a message that fails to penetrate past the show's soaring vocals, bright lights, and dazzling costumes. As audience members flooded out of the Emerson Colonial Theatre, more than one could be overheard asking “Which was your favorite Queen?” even after a 90 minute story showing that such contests are meaningless and harmful.
Moreover, the show’s message leaves no room for subtlety, nuance, or complexity. The dialogue in the show is sparse, but the limited lines can be cringe-inducing and dated even just five years after the show’s creation. From the repeated and unironic use of “Her-story” in place of history to the insistence on constantly referring to each other as “Queens,” the portrayal of feminism in the show paints the characters as feminist caricatures rather than actual feminist icons.
Even packaged in the heavy-handed delivery of pop-princess feminism anthems, “Six” isn’t without its problematic portrayal of women. The infantilization of Anne Boleyn as a chronically online preteen that sings about how she seduced Henry VIII is uncomfortable at best. But the discomfort of Anne Boleyn’s characterization pales in comparison to the treatment of Katherine Howard. The adoring sound of audience cheers and shouts filling the theater following her performance of “All You Want To Do” borders on dystopian, after the song packages years of emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of men into an upbeat dance number.
Lacking any real depth in it’s feminist message, “Six” is a show best enjoyed at the surface level, where dazzling costumes and impressive vocal performances overshadow the story’s superficial foundation.
—Staff writer Jen A. Hughes can be reached at email@example.com. You can find her on twitter @JenHughes_.
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