Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: SIX at National Theatre

Have a little fun with “HER-story” and catch the superlative production of SIX now playing at the National Theatre!

Review: SIX at National Theatre
L-R surrounding Gabriela Carrillo as Catherine Parr (center) are Khaila Wilcoxon, Storm Lever, Jasmine Forsberg, Olivia Donalson, and Didi Romero
in the North American Tour Aragon Company of SIX.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Misogyny and patriarchy in Tudor history (Tudor Dynasty) in all its perfidy, comes to life as the six wives of Henry VIII come to musical life ---bloodied but unbowed in the much-ballyhooed musical SIX now playing at The National Theatre. Two university students, Toby Marlow, and Lucy Moss conceived the intriguing book, music and lyrics for this multi-layered musical that speaks to any demographic. The music and lyrics jump out at you with snappy, rollicking, cutting-edge songs that are given "diva-esque" renditions by the six actresses playing the roles of the wives of Henry VIII. The stage at the National explodes in a riot of music, "out of the stratosphere" energy, and vibrant, pulsating lights and costumes---all compressed within eighty high-energy minutes.

Six royally "screwed-over" women have revenge on their minds as they sing of empowerment and defiance in this "her-story" wherein the conventional narrative is reframed and explored. As the lyrics proclaim "Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded, Survived" --- the factual fates of these well-known (and some not so well-known) royal women from history are given a chance to breathe in the sassy, sexual and supercharged/heightened world of a hyped-up pop concert. Each of the six royal wives) sing a specific song tailored to their own personas.

As if this enticing theatrical conceit were not enough, the heightened imagination and intelligence of writers Marlow and Moss geared up into overdrive. They creatively superimpose the layer of a communal bickering "talkfest" wherein a competition to find "the queen who has suffered the most" turns the production into yet another direction as the show becomes a spoof on the crass squabbling and one-upmanship on view in the recent television show "The Jerry Springer Show" or "Maury". Spurts of historical recognition are left in the wake as each queen reframe all their various tragic or quasi-bearable narratives.

Feminist empowerment (mixed with high camp and satire) by virtue of the reframed narratives, an all-female cast as well as an all-female band (billed as "The Ladies in Waiting") make the production extremely timely and relevant.

The creative use of the word "Six" projects even further than wives and songs -as creators Marlow and Moss developed a "Six-Point Plan" in shaping their writing process and hopefully explaining why the show exists the way it does. The plan includes providing a different perspective on the six queens different from their status as wives, giving female historical figures a voice to tell their own experiences, and so forth --.

Directors Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage keep the show moving at superspeed. The "ex-queens" enter as an ensemble with the upbeat "Ex-Wives", the uber warp speed "Haus of Holbein" (House music intermixed with black light effects), and the intense signature song "Six". Technique and style take center stage in this production which is a triumph of production values--- adrenaline -rushed and exciting, cutting-edge choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille adds to the vigor of this very edgy yet extremely fun and campy show.

The writing of the lyrics and music by Marlow and Moss is clever and captures the zeitgeist of the times we are living in now (as well as the zeitgeist of the Tudor period via basic references to the Tudor period in the songs and in the and occasional dialogue between each song). Interesting that there is no conventional book per se but that is a moot point when the pop concert approach and smattering of dialogue works sufficiently. There is also Tudor style merged with the contemporary pop fashion look thanks to the sartorially surprising and creative costume design by Gabriella Slade.

Each "ex-queen" came to regal life with six glorious performers who possessed acting, dancing, and vocal chops to the max. Another interesting concept/layer of writers Marlow and Moss was to incorporate the essence and persona of contemporary pop icons such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Avril Lavigne, Adele, Britney Spears and so forth with the characters of the six royal yet contemporary pop concert queens.

Catherine of Aragon came to contemporary life as Khaila Wilcoxon managed to portray both belligerence and vulnerability as she commanded the stage. Her rendition of the defiant song "No Way" was delivered with stunning cadence and control.

Storm Lever's Anne Boleyn delivers a performance that is endearingly quirky and full of spirit. Ms. Lever's delivery of "Don't Lose Your Head" (as befits the beheaded Anne) is engaging and witty.

Jasmine Forsberg as the tenacious and forbearing Jane Seymour (who died in childbirth but gave an heir to Henry) delivered a sensitive performance. Her delivery of the torch song "Heart of Stone" was a thrill and it built to an exciting climax.

Olivia Donalson's funky and ribald characterization of fourth wife Anna of Cleves was a class in comic timing. Donalson's delivery of "Get Down" evoked the intended laughter and the song was akin to a comic novelty song in its humor.

Didi Romero captures attention with her beautiful voice in the sensual and playful "All You Wanna Do". Romero's portrayal of Katherine Howard was sassy and captivating. (Indeed, Romero made you forget that Katherine Howard was executed on Tower Green, London).

Gabriela Carrillo's portrayal of queen Catherine Parr was a tour de force of singing and acting interpretation. Parr had amazing ability to immerse herself totally in the defiant song of survival "I Don't Need Your Love". Parr brought out all the nuance of the song. (The influence of pop star Céline Dion was clear).

Music is the mainstay of the production and music supervision by Joe Beighton, music supervision (U.S.) by Roberta Duchak, and sound design by Paul Gatehouse are all exemplary. Orchestrations by Tom Curran are marvelous, strongly assertive yet full of playful intricacy and a pleasure to the ear. Conductor Jo Ann Daugherty superbly conducted a band of superb musicians.

Scenic Design by Emma Bailey provided a logistically savvy background to showcase the six performers.

Lighting Design by Tim Deiling is full of vibrance and replete with colorful reds, blues, and golds.

The genius of Six is that you can enjoy it at any level of audience engagement. Not as mindless as the musical Mamma, Mia or as demanding to absorb as Hamilton, Six finds its own comfortable niche in the evolution of musical theatre. This musical is extremely rewarding at a pop concert level, but those yearning for more contextual theatricality can easily find it if they heed the historical context to the needed degree. Have a little fun with "HER-story" and catch the superlative production of SIX now playing at The National Theatre!

Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission

Six runs through September 4th, 2022 at The National Theatre located at 1321 Pennsylvania NW, Washington, DC 20004.




From This Author - David Friscic

David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college.  He is thrilled to... (read more about this author)


Review: MY SON THE WAITER at Theater J
August 9, 2022

One-person shows have long been a hallmark of the entertainment world and My Son, The Waiter --now playing at Theater J (the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC) –continues the trend. This show is a pleasing mix of banter, anecdotes, and warmth. The world of the one-man show is alive and well.

Review: SIX at National Theatre
July 17, 2022

Misogyny and patriarchy in Tudor history (Tudor Dynasty) in all its perfidy, comes to life as the six wives of Henry VIII come to musical life ---bloodied but unbowed in the much-ballyhooed musical SIX now playing at the National Theatre.  Two university students, Toby Marlow, and Lucy Moss conceived the intriguing book, music and lyrics for this multi-layered musical that speaks to any demographic. The music and lyrics jump out at you with snappy, rollicking, cutting-edge songs that are given “diva-esque” renditions by the six actresses playing the roles of the wives of Henry VIII. The stage at the National explodes in a riot of music, “out of the stratosphere” energy, and vibrant, pulsating lights and costumes---all compressed within eighty high-energy minutes. 

REVIEW: HOTTER THAN JULY: STEVIE WONDER at Signature Theatre
July 9, 2022

When a phenomenal talent like Stevie Wonder comes along, everyone takes notice ---for Wonder is a genius. Genius musicianship was on display as jazzy, hip, and relevant renditions of Stevie Wonder’s music were showcased in Hotter than July by Signature Theatre’s Cabaret series. It was an evening to remember.

Review: THE HOT WING KING at Studio Theatre
July 5, 2022

The feelings and attachments of men, whether gay or straight, as they fight for self-respect and survival in a harsh world are portrayed in playwright Katori Hall’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play The Hot Wing King. The compromises, commitments, camaraderie, and fractious relationships of a non-traditional family are explored with immediacy and sophisticated insight by Ms. Hall. Like all superbly written plays, one is continually taken by surprise as the play develops and nothing is as expected. The writing here is on the caliber of playwrights Annie Baker or August Wilson.

Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at Kennedy Center
June 27, 2022

Harper Lee’s classic book To Kill A Mockingbird has a legion of fans and so does the 1962 film but it would be best to forget the source material and simply savor the theatricality of the play To Kill A Mockingbird now playing at the Kennedy Center.  Playwright Aaron Sorkin has written a stage adaptation that succeeds beautifully on its own terms.