“Six” Reimagines History in New, Empowering Feminist Pop Musical

The day before Broadway shut down in March, I had plans to see the musical “Six.” Upon arriving at the theatre, I waited in a long line and was surprised to see that it was full. The experience of being at a Broadway show in the midst of a pandemic did not feel as unusual as you might expect. The severity of the virus was just beginning to emerge, and mask-wearing was not yet the norm. I did use hand sanitizer as soon as I got to my seat, but that is all I remember doing differently than I would have otherwise. “Six” is only 80 minutes long with no intermission. 

The magnitude of having attended the last showing of “Six” during the last night of Broadway shows only hit me once I found out the next day that shows had shut down. I am grateful I got to see the show when I did, and it led me to listen to the soundtrack throughout my entire quarantine experience.

“Six” is a musical that was written by two Cambridge University students about the six wives of Henry VIII. Originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, the show came to Broadway and started previews on Feb. 13, with plans to open on March 12. Unfortunately, Broadway also shut down on March 12 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which means that if you’ve seen the recent Tony nominations, you may have noticed that “Six” is missing.

While many people may have heard the popular rhyme that details the fates of Henry VIII’s six wives (“divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”), most don’t know too much more about these women. “Six” attempts to rewrite this history, explaining the lives of Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macaset), Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), Anne of Cleves (Brittany Mack), Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly) and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele), as opposed to Henry VIII. 

By focusing the narrative on the women in the story and portraying them as strong and independent, “Six” is a true feminist retelling of history. One example of this is in the story of Anne of Cleves, who divorced from Henry after he didn’t think she was pretty enough. Instead of portraying her as a sad and rejected ex-wife, they depict her resilience and satisfaction at having gained her own castle from the divorce. In addition to this feminist outlook, “Six” takes on the form of a pop concert. The women begin the show by announcing that they are competing against each other for the title of who had the most tragic life. By the end, however, they abandon this self-deprecation and instead focus on sisterhood and their future legacy, recreating the narratives for what they wish would have happened in their lives. 

The show is a perfect mix of history and entertainment, acknowledging the struggles faced by women in the 1500s while also providing a fun soundtrack and witty jokes that make the performances highly enjoyable. While watching “Six,” I truly felt like I was receiving a history lesson at a pop concert — something I never thought could be possible. 

It can be hard reimagining a male-centered story on individuals other than the man in the picture; however, “Six,” is successful because it showcases the women for who they are, not only for their relationships with Henry VIII. Through catchy songs sung by talented women, the audience learns more about the beliefs, aspirations and lives of these six protagonists from before they met Henry. Whenever Henry is mentioned, it is only to deepen the understanding of what the women went through. Additionally, the ex-wives constantly insult and make fun of Henry VIII, which is not only hilarious but also steers the narrative away from the idea that Henry was a powerful and righteous leader. 

While the story is inspiring and well-executed, the most impressive part of the show is the musical production. The soundtrack is a powerful mix of upbeat and heart-wrenching songs. The first performance of the show, in my opinion, has one of the best songs in the musical, providing a comprehensive historical background about the women and their relationships to Henry. The last song is the aforementioned recreation of what the women wish their lives were like and is incredibly heartwarming. The rest of the songs (with the exception of one) are musical accounts of the lives of each wife and are sung in the order that they were married to Henry. 

Through each performance, you truly understand how hard each woman’s lives were but without being disheartened. The fun and comedic parts of the songs balance out the representation of hardships for a truly entertaining show. My personal favorite song is “Don’t Lose Your Head,” sung by Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macaset). Incredibly upbeat with fun choreography, this song was extremely hilarious and entertaining. The fact that a song about a woman who was beheaded is called “Don’t Lose Your Head” tells you all you need to know about the show. 

In addition to the outstanding soundtrack, the women’s costumes were sparkly, eye-catching and gorgeous. As reported by The New York Times, each actress based their historical character’s modern retelling on current pop stars. For example, the longest-reigning Queen, Catherine of Aragon, was modeled after Beyoncé and the passionate and independent Anne of Cleves is partially inspired by Nicki Minaj. The costuming and choreography clearly reflect this.  

The use of modern pop icons to represent historical figures helps the audience feel connected to and be able to relate to the characters more. In addition, it adds to the feeling of being at a concert because traits of celebrities who perform currently are visible on the musical’s stage.  

For those of us who aren’t necessarily the biggest fans of historical stories, “Six,” with its modern music and stage design, portrays history in a completely new and exciting way. The show did a great job making the stories feel relevant to modern feminism, and I felt like I could truly understand the struggles of the women, even though they lived hundreds of years before me.

I would highly recommend that everyone watch “Six” for a fun and inspiring experience, but because of the pandemic, attending a performance is effectively impossible right now. This does not mean that you can’t still enjoy all the best parts of the show from the comfort and safety of your home or dorm room! Broadway musicals vary in their balance of music and dialogue, and luckily for us, “Six” is heavily song-based. Listening to the soundtrack in the order that the songs are sung in the show will allow you to understand the entire story without needing too much backstory. This, paired with reading the detailed New York Times article about the musical, will make you feel like you have already seen the show.