LOU Henry will be giving SIX of the best at the Grand Opera House from Tuesday, returning to the York stage where she made her professional debut as Snow White in December 2019.
This time, the Grand Opera House is but one stop on a 15-month tour in the role of Catherine Howard in SIX The Musical, the all-female show for the millennial age that reactivates the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII in modern mode, with attitude.
Call it gig theatre, call it a pop concert, wherein the Queens tell their story in song in chronological order to decide who suffered most at Henry’s hands once he put a ring on that wedding finger.
Billed as “York’s own” when picked to play a black-wigged Snow White in Three Bears Productions’ Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Knaresborough-raised Louise now performs as Lou Henry, playing wife number five in Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s musical since April 25.
Lou’s Catherine Howard was Queen Consort from 1540 to 1541, beheaded at the Tower of London on February 13 1542, still only in her 18th year. Henry had called her his “rose without a thorn”, but the history books ascribe to her a scandalous past and present, one that led to her being found guilty of adultery.
“And ever since I was a child, I’d make the boys go wild,” she brags in All You Wanna Do, but later adds: “With Henry, it isn’t easy, his temper’s short and his mates are sleazy.”
“I think she’s misunderstood,” says Lou. “By the time she sings her song, she undercuts everyone’s expectations because there’s a darker side to what she experiences, which is so sad and harrowing, though it’s also a really fun act as a role, not just a big belting moment in song, but there’s loads to act out.
“I have mums and lots of the female members of the audience coming up afterwards and saying, ‘I feel so sad at the end of the song because it’s such a terrible experience she goes through.”
Lou feels the pressure to “tell the story right”. “Already we’ve done more than 70 shows, so it feels more settled now. Catherine’s song is really long – seven minutes of singing; it’s ridiculous! – but she’s giving it everything,” she says.
SIX The Musical is playing to packed houses wherever it goes, whether York this week or Leeds Grand Theatre in early August, and the Grand Opera House has even added standing tickets for the first time, such has been the demand to see the “Spouse Girls musical” on its return to York only six months after its first run here.
“It absolutely is the show of the moment,” says Lou. “It feels very current and important in its subject matter, and the reason it sells so well is the message behind it as much as the pop concert format.
“That’s what attracts people in the first place and keeps them coming. Yes, it’s a pop concert but it turns the mirror round on the audience and says it’s not right that women keep being treated like this.”
Performing in such a show is an 80-minute adrenaline rush, but “we try to keep ourselves really calm before the start, as it can be very excitable in the auditorium, even though there’s a harpsichord playing as if it’s just a Tudor piece,” says Lou.
“But then we have the ‘SIX switch’, where we say we’ve got each other’s backs and what we want out of the show that night. Hit the Six switch, and we tell our story, undercutting historical expectations and people’s expectations of what’s coming.
“Because it’s so interactive, encouraging involvement, you’ll see people singing along or dancing – you can see they’re so invested in it – so I’ll take a deep breath and think, ‘I’ve still got a job to do here’!”
What has Lou learned after those 70-plus performances? “I was under the preconception that it was just a poppy concert but now I really have something to say [through Catherine Howard], and we’re making points in this really well-oiled machine, which is really special, while interacting with each other through the experience of touring, with little changes that keep it interesting for ourselves on stage.”
Joining Lou’s Katherine are Nicole Louise Lewis’s Catherine of Aragon, Laura Dawn Pyatt’s Anne Boleyn, Erin Caldwell’s Jane Seymour, Kenedy Small’s Anna of Cleves and Aoife Haakenson’s Catherine Parr, backed by the all-female band The Ladies in Waiting.
SIX! The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, June 27 to July 2; Tuesday to Thursday, 8pm sold out; Friday, 6pm, 8.30pm, sold out; Saturday, 4pm, 8pm, limited availability; Sunday, 2pm, sold out. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Also Leeds Grand Theatre, August 1 to 6, 8pm, Tuesday to Saturday, plus 5pm, Friday and Saturday; 2pm, Sunday. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or leedsheritagetheatres.com.
SIX The Musical: the back story
SIX follows the six wives of Henry VIII as they take to the mic to tell their own personal tales, remixing 500 years of historical heartbreak into an 80-minute celebration of 21st century girl power.
Since its early days as a student production in a 100-seat room at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s pop concert/musical has become a global phenomenon.
On the international stage, SIX has productions playing on Broadway at the Lena Horne Theatre, New York, and two concurrent North American tours, including a seven-week run in Las Vegas, with autumn runs announced for Canada and the Netherlands (featuring the UK tour cast from September 20).
SIX has played an Australian tour too. The South Korean production ran at the Shinhan Card Artium, Seoul, from March 17 to June 25, to be followed by July 1 and 2 performances at the Sejong Centre for the Performing Arts in Sejong.
On home turf, the London production continues its reign in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre (its third royal residence), while the UK and Ireland tour continues to break box office records, booking through to 2024.
Winner of 26 major international awards, including the 2022 Tony Award for Best Original Score and Best Costume Design on Broadway; double Whatsonstage Award for Best West End Show for 2022 and 2023 and 2020 BBC Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical. Nominated for five Olivier awards, including Best New Musical.
More than 500 million streams and three billion views of Marlow and Moss’s songs on TikTok. Original studio album of SIX turned gold in 2021; Broadway album SIX – Live On Opening Night was nominated for a Grammy Award.