Review: SIX at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

By: May. 25, 2019

Review: SIX at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Bow down to the queens of SIX. In this new musical from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (with direction from Moss and Jamie Armitage), the six wives of King Henry VIII are taking back their mics and sharing their stories-in the form of contemporary pop musical songs. This masterful musical sizzles with electric energy and endless delight. SIX remains a fiery and joyous theatrical affair without ever making light of the fact that the musical demonstrates how these six women are best remembered in history as "belonging" to an infamous king. Yet SIX also brilliantly subverts this notion by reminding us that a huge part of Henry VIII's legacy stems from the fact that these six women were all his spouses. SIX posits that without this line-up of ex-wives, Henry VIII might not have left such an indelible mark on history.

SIX carries out its joyful and anachronistic takedown of the patriarchy by reimagining its central figures as a girl power pop group. Drawing on musical influences from Ariana Grande to Adele, SIX's powerful and catchy score sends up some of the most revered female pop singers of the moment. Just as these talented pop music artists have cemented their place in music history, so too do the six women of SIX hope to set their own stories straight. The musical sets this up through a competition, in which each wife is given a solo number through which to prove that she was the one who beared the greatest hardship at the hand of her husband-and generally, of the men in the British court who were always given more power and more choice. While framing SIX as a competition might at first seem to negate the show's clearly pro-feminist message, in the end it actually affirms the show's goal. By giving each wife an opportunity to put her story centerstage, these historical figures allow us to see them as individuals rather than as just one unit.

Marlow and Moss have brilliantly designated a different musical style for each wife, Review: SIX at Chicago Shakespeare Theater which works nicely to distinguish character and to allow for endlessly tuneful pop goodness in the score. All the musical numbers in SIX follow the typical "verse-chorus-verse-chorus" format of modern pop music. This compositional method not only suits the musical style well but also enables Marlow and Moss to make each number into a coherent story.

Moss and Armitage have assembled a brilliant cast for SIX and so all of these performers must be mentioned (also of note: the all-female four-piece band is referred to as the "Ladies in Waiting). As Catherine of Aragon, Adrianna Hicks is up first with the blazing anthem "No Way," in which she displays a fervent desire not to accept her fate lying down. Hicks gives a raucous and commanding performance, setting the tone for an evening that becomes yet more magnificent as the show continues.

Next up is Anne Boleyn, perhaps Henry VIII's most famous wife and best remembered for her beheading (though she shares that unfortunate end with Katherine Howard, as well). As Anne, Andrea Macasaet tears things up with "Don't Lose Ur Head," a cheeky number in the style of Avril Lavigne and Lily Allen. While the song captures Anne's flirtatious reputation in the British court, the double meaning of the title serves to demonstrate how little power Anne had at the end of the day. Macasaet gives the number a playful energy and an exaggerated tone, without ever erring on the side of too cute.

As Jane Seymour, Abby Mueller nails her soulful ballad "Heart of Stone." Mueller has a vocal technique that is keenly precise and so powerful.

As Anna of Cleves, Brittney Mack delivers the Nicki Minaj-style hip-hop/rap influence numbered "Get Down." Mack's performance takes no prisoners.

Samantha Pauly gives a stellar turn as Katherine Howard, in part because her character's arc is one of the most unexpected. Katherine's song is the bubblegum pop tune "All You Wanna Do" (and Pauly even wears her hair in a send-up to Ariana Grande's signature high ponytail). While the song starts out fun, the lyrics take a turn that reveals a much darker meaning and reflects the continual abuse that Katherine endured throughout her short life. Pauly's performance gives the song due weight, as she moves from an upbeat, sprightly performance to one that morphs into heartbreak and devastation.

Anna Uzele closes out the evening as Catherine Parr, known in part for outliving Henry VIII himself. Her number "I Don't Need Your Love" is an Alicia Keys ballad that starts out slow and lovely and grows to a powerful fanfare. Uzele's performance mirrors this shift, as she becomes more energized and seems to take up more space overall as the song progresses (which is also an apt metaphor for SIX itself). The rallying cry of "I Don't Need Your Love" also fits like a glove with the show's theme about these six women figuring out how to come out from behind the shadow of Henry VIII.

While individually these six performers are outstanding, they're also magnificent together. The score calls upon the six to deliver three group numbers in which they must finesse complex harmonies: the opening number "Ex-Wives," the satirical "Haus of Holbein," and the show's eponymous finale. Hicks, Macasaet, Mueller, Mack, Pauly, and Uzele sound delightful together, and they successfully blend their voices when needed. These performers also provide backing vocals for one another in their individual numbers, which is also a subtle way of underscoring the show's message of female empowerment.

SIX lands at exactly the right cultural moment, but also executes its vision with precision and intelligence. The six performers in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production make this material yet better. All told, to the queens of SIX I say, "Yas, queen."

SIX plays The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through August 4. Tickets are $32-$62.

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

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Photos: The New Queens of SIX on Broadway Take Their First Bows Photo
Photos: The New Queens of SIX on Broadway Take Their First Bows

Broadway’s Tony Award®-winning hit musical SIX welcomed six new Queens to the cast last night, December 5. BroadwayWorld was there as the new cast took their first bows. Check out photos here!

Photos: SIX Welcomes All New Queens This Week Photo
Photos: SIX Welcomes All New Queens This Week

The Tony Award-winning hit musical SIX by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, welcomes new Queens tomorrow, December 5, 2023, to Broadway’s Lena Horne Theatre. Check out all new photos of the new cast here! 

SIX Releases New Block of Tickets Through September 8, 2024 Photo
SIX Releases New Block of Tickets Through September 8, 2024

A new block of tickets has just been released for Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss's Tony Award-winning global smash hit musical SIX, and tickets are now available through September 8, 2024.

Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, and Son Truman Visit SIX on Broadway Photo
Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, and Son Truman Visit SIX on Broadway

Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, and son Truman Hanks, saw Broadway's SIX at the Lena Horne Theatre on Saturday night (November 4) and went backstage to meet the cast. Check out a photo of the Hanks family and cast here!

From This Author - Rachel Weinberg

Chicago native Rachel Weinberg has been one of the most frequent contributing editors and critics for BroadwayWorld Chicago since joining the team in 2014. She is a marketing professional specialized ... Rachel Weinberg">(read more about this author)


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