Written by: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Director: Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Companies: Citadel Theatre, by arrangement with Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes, George Stiles, Kevin McCollum in association with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Venue: Citadel Theatre
Runs to: Sunday, Nov. 24
Take six queens. Divide by the eighth King Henry. Multiply by 90 minutes of inspired, witty writing, stellar composition and sparkling design.
Throw in a room full of seasoned Edmonton theatregoers who treat the queens like teens treated the Beatles when they played Shea Stadium in ‘64 and what have you got?
Saturday night in northern Alberta, a jubilant Edmonton audience – where the show is holding a pre-Broadway run at the Citadel prior to opening in New York in February – shook off a November blizzard and dove into the queens of Six with a passion more associated with the 1980s Oilers than 16th-century British royalty.
When we meet them at the top of the show, Henry VIII’s six wives, dressed in costumes (sharply designed by Gabriella Slade) that are a cross between Tudor England and a Beyoncé video before she discovered politics, they immediately fall into a competition for the saddest wife’s life of all of Henry’s exes.
The thing is, as far as early 16th-century quasi-reality shows go, Housewives of Henry VIII is a tough one to win. After all, two of them were beheaded, one suffered five miscarriages and one, Anna of Cleves (Brittany Mack, bringing it), a German, was ditched by Henry because in person, she didn’t live up to how she appeared in her portrait, so Henry swiped left.
Six, a musical that joyously blends English Tudor history, every great contemporary female pop and soul diva and a cheeky wit that lands a hundred great laughs over the course of the (thrillingly economical) 90-minute show, is an absolute blast to experience.
Created by British twentysomethings Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for the Edinburgh Fringe, turned into a huge hit in London, from the moment the lights go down, it explodes out at the audience. It features an all-female cast and four-piece band that deliver a smart, hugely entertaining retelling of male mythology – a herstory – of the lives of each of the wives of the infamous king.
All of it is told through songs, as each wife takes a solo turn in a true diva smackdown, where the other exes view each other pitilessly.
After sharing her story through a gorgeous, gut-wrenching ballad Heart of Stone, in which she channels Adele no less – and gives her a run for her money – Jane Seymour (Mallory Maedke) retreats to the chorus of dead wives and asks beheaded Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet, not to be messed with) “What hurts more than a broken heart?”
“A severed head,” Boleyn says, winning that round handily.
The direction (shared by Jamie Armitage and Moss) is tight, the performances celestial, the design a visual and sonic feast (by Emma Bailey, Slade, Tim Deiling on lights and Paul Gatehouse on sound), but what’s most inspiring and delightful about it is how well written it is.
Marlow and Moss are funny and are furiously self-aware of the losing hand 16th-century women were dealt and – because this is a musical – when they need a heartbreaking ballad, they deliver one.
In the end, there’s a feminist awakening moment, where they realize that the competition they have constructed is just another misogynist trope that they’ve inflicted on themselves. It’s a smart, self-aware turn that kind of flattens out the show’s final moments. My head liked it, but at the end of 90 brilliantly funny and moving minutes of a musical that meets the current contemporary moment head on, it could use a tweak.
That shouldn’t be too much trouble for Marlow and Moss. They’ve already tweaked English Tudor history into a musical not to be missed.
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