HISTORY and hysteria combined, SIX The Musical’s run in York has been met with excitement befitting an A-list pop star. Sold out, every last newly refurbished Grand Opera House seat.
Make that SIX pop divas as this all-female show for the millennial age reactivates the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII in modern mode with attitude: 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.
From this talent and talons contest between Henry’s trouble-and-strife sextet will emerge the group’s lead singer. Move over The Spice Girls, here come The Spouse Girls, whose rhyming career path read: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
This is not so much history as her-story, as they gleefully point out, in a tale of Tudor girl empowerment, one with no appearance by ‘orrible Henry, but the obligatory girl-group infighting, albeit engineered sassily and sometimes saucily (wait for the Anne Boleyn joke) by co-writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.
“Musical theatre often has lame parts for women,” Moss once said. “We wanted to write loads of meaty, funny parts for women.”
That’s exactly what they have done, while also “making something which didn’t feel like a musical”, conjuring a 75-minute, straight-through, breathless show that began life as a Cambridge University student production in 2017. Since then, it has acquired more hi-tech trim in Emma Bailey’s set design for its staging with four ladies-in-waiting, leather and studs: musical director Caitlin Morgan on keys; Migdalia Van Der Hoven on drums, Ashley Young on bass and Laura Browne on guitar.
They provide the on-trend musical ballast for pop music devotees Marlow and Moss to mirror the tropes of this century’s pop queens: Beyonce for Catherine of Aragon’s No Way; lippy Lily Allen for Anne Boleyn’s Don’t Lose Ur Head; Adele for Jane Seymour’s Heart Of Stone; Rihanna and Nicki Minaj for Anne of Cleves’ Get Down; Ariane Grande for Katherine Howard’s All You Wanna Do and Alicia Keys for I Don’t Need Your Love. The pastiches are uncanny, adding to the fun and games, matched by the subject matter in the lyrics suiting the song style spot on.
You will have your favourites among those songs – for this reviewer, No Way, Get Down or the sudden burst of camp techno and yellow dark glasses for Haus Of Holbein with comedy German accents – but those choices will differ wildly. To these ears, the ballads carried less impact; others would insist Heart Of Stone is the peachiest number of all.
You will have your favourite Queens too, and again arguments can rage as to who and why, but SIX is rooted in team work, in shared empowerment, and so the show opens with an ensemble number Ex-Wives and closes with two more, Six and MegaSix.
The Wives are omnipresent, singing backing vocals when not each having their moment in the spotlight, drilled by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille in that high-energy brand of choreography beloved of Beyonce and Britney with glittering, flashy, big-on-bling costume designs by Gabriella Slade to match.
As for the performances – not so much regal airs and disgraces as setting the record straight under Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage’s dandy, defiant direction – they are indeed SIX of the best: Chloe Hart’s unbending Catherine of Aragon; Jennifer Caldwell’s fun-loving Yorkshire-voiced minx Anne Boleyn; Casey Al-Shaqsy’s true-love Jane Seymour; Jessica Niles’s wronged but life-of-luxury Anne of Cleves; Scottish-accented understudy Leesa Tulley’s tried-her-best Katherine Howard and Alana M Robinson’s resilient, broken-hearted survivor Catherine Parr.
Choose a winner? Yours truly is a Boleyn ally. Choose a loser? Alas anyone who was not quick enough off the mark to book a ticket.
SIX The Musical reigns at Grand Opera House, York, until October 16. Performances at 8pm, Wednesday and Thursday; 6pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 5pm and 8pm, Saturday; 3pm, Sunday. ALL SOLD OUT.
SIX The Musical is to return to the Grand Opera House, York, from June 27 to July 2 2023. Performances will be at 8pm, Tuesday to Thursday; 6pm and 8.30pm, Friday; 4pm and 8pm, Saturday, and 2pm, Sunday.
Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.