Review: ‘SIX The Musical’ makes history through modern twists on the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives

By Abra Richardson, Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones

On a set made for a singing competition rather than musicals, “SIX The Musical” immediately suggests to its audience what’s to come from the show.

Taking over the CIBC Theatre, located at 18 W. Monroe St., “SIX” will run through July 3 in the venue which has previously hosted “Hamilton,” “Rent” and “Hairspray.” 

“SIX” is a musical created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss in 2017 while they studied at Cambridge University and were inspired by the book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Antonia Fraser and a documentary series called “Six Wives” by Lucy Worsley.

“’SIX’ is a musical about the six wives of Henry VIII told in a way that you definitely have never seen before,” cast member Gabriela Carrillo said. “It’s the six wives of Henry VIII as pop stars, all competing to be the lead singer of our girl group, and whoever has the worst story about what it was like to be married to him gets to be the leader of the band.”

Accompanied by an all-female band, the show starts with an electric opening song that previews the energy of the show as each “queen” is introduced based on the historical timeline of their marriage to King Henry VIII and how they died. After each character is individualized, it starts to become a competition where they each battle to be the best queen, or in this case, the lead singer.

The show immediately relates to the mindset of competitiveness for leadership and the desire to the best, which is something that has clearly been going on for centuries.

The first queen to get a solo is Catherine of Aragon, who is known for her refusal to get an annulment and her speech to Henry VIII when he brought her to court. Her song “No Way” incorporates pieces of said speech as well as inspiration from Beyonce’s “Lemonade” era, which comes from the mentions of cheating, and nods at Shakira’s choreography.

Anne Boleyn was the second queen to be introduced, and she has a fun rivalry with Catherine due to the ending of Catherine’s marriage, which transitions to a fun pop-rock song, “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” that will not let anyone forget that she was beheaded and that she had a sixth finger. Her feisty character is notable throughout the show when she argues and interrupts the other queens.

The high tensions loosen when Jane Seymour takes the stage as she performs a power ballad, “Heart of Stone,” inspired by Adele and Sia, where it is presented that she is calm and obedient. Seymour is known as the “only one he truly loved,” which irritates all of the queens. Her role doesn’t match the others’ level of competitiveness because she’s more laid-back, and while that makes her stand out, her disposition does not work with the idea of a competition.

The energy picks up soon after her song as a fun, retro ensemble song, “Haus of Holbein,” gets the crowd excited to get up and dance. Making its way to mainstream TikTok sounds, the notable song was a big hit with the crowd.

Competition returns as Anne of Cleves performs a hip-hop piece called “Get Down” where she speaks on her failure to impress Henry VIII with her looks. This song stands out because they compare her rejection to modern-day dating apps, where the parallels between oil painting portraits and filtered selfies resemble each other. This song is the strongest of all of them with the way it ties into mainstream media, something a lot of people relate to.

The youngest queen, Katherine Howard takes the stage next with a classic pop song “All I Wanna Do.” The piece resembles a song that would be sung by Sharpay Evans in “High School Musical,” if it weren’t a Disney franchise. Her rebellion peaks through, nodding to her death by execution.

Before Catherine Parr takes the stage, the theme of the show shifts from a competition to a reflection of all of the queens’ stories. The reason the show was made was to highlight each queen and showcase their individual stories rather than categorize them as all being married to the same man.

The last queen, Catherine Parr sings “I Don’t Need Your Love,” which resembles compositions by Alicia Keys and Little Mix. She takes the stance that even though she’s the one who survived, there is still a lot of trauma she faced before her marriage.

To end the show, a reprise of the opening song “Six” gets the crowd on its feet as it highlights each queen. It was a perfect ending, taking the theme of independence and allowing each to reclaim their stories.

“I think ‘SIX’ is going to inspire young writers because the writers of the show, Toby and Lucy, are young, and they’ve achieved so much,” Carrillo said. “I think there’s a lot less gatekeeping in theatre, and with social media you can release music, videos and ideas whenever you want; you don’t have to be connected to somebody to get your work out there.”

Like Carrillo mentioned, this show proves that theatre is ever-so evolving, and it’s an exciting time to be a creative. “SIX” is a great show for all generations and one that will stand out from any other musical.