The pop queens from Six the Musical are on a winning royal tour, writes Erin Hutchinson. Watching them reclaim their rightful place in history is a blast.
Six the Musical, Louise Withers, Michael Coppel and Linda Bewick •
Crown Theatre, 26 November 2022 •
When I heard Six the Musical was making its way here, I was thrilled. A female dominant cast, crew and management? Practically unheard of! And on top of that, a sensational score and spirited retelling of the stories of historical women? I was sold.
We’ve all heard of Henry VIII, right? His voracious appetite for food and women and, of course, his six wives. But history is always seen through a biased lens, and Henry’s queens will be forever linked with the way in which they were treated. Six reframes these stories, or as they say ‘her-stories’, cheekily and cleverly pointing out the problems with our patriarchal structures and raising their voices to reclaim female storytelling.
More in the style of a talent competition than a traditional musical, the queens pit their tales of woe against each other in song. Writers and composers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are witty and playful, pulling heavily from pop culture, well-known traditional tunes, hints of Hamilton, and even a few lesser-known musical theatre nods.
Each queen is inspired by contemporary ‘princesses’ of pop – think Beyonce, Lily Allen, Adele – and the Australian cast belts out the numbers with sass and flair. For 75 minutes, these incredible performers, and their band of “ladies in waiting”, bang out hit after hit. It is hard to sit still at times, but they hold us safely in their royal hands throughout.
The women begin with “Ex-Wives”, smoky silhouettes outlined by a glorious neon glow, the deep pumping beat sending waves of excitement through the audience. The cast is tight and terrific under the superb direction of Moss and Jamie Armitage, and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is high-energy heaven.
Gabriella Slade’s costume design is punk-rock meets queen-jewels from tip of rhinestone kick-ass boots to perfectly positioned tiara. Emma Bailey’s tiered set design and Tim Deiling’s lighting work seamlessly together, highlighting the exceptional band under the musical direction of Claire Healey, and providing the perfect mix of playful and poignant illumination of key moments.
The phenomenal performers strut and hip swing across the stage with vigour and, refreshingly, owning their Aussie accents.
Phoenix Jackson Mendoza, as “paragon of royalty” Catherine of Aragon, is dynamic and delightful singing “No Way”. Kala Gare is naughty and naïve as teen temptress Anne Boleyn in “Don’t Lose Your Head”. Loren Hunter gives a beautifully touching performance as Jane Seymour, holding the audience completely still during her ballad “Heart of Stone”.
“Haus of Holbein” is an outstandingly upbeat German rave to introduce party animal Anne of Cleves, performed with verve and glorious attitude by Kiana Daniele. I loved Slade’s costume touch here, with the neon green neck-ruff trim and sunnies. It’s a fun moment of historical Tinder with Henry swiping-right on this original catfish “queen of the castle” and Daniele portraying a perky rendition of self-belief and confidence in “Get Down”.
Britney-inspired Katherine Howard, played by Chelsea Dawson, gets a meltdown of her own, with some sharp nods about male entitlement in the sweetly and cynically sung “All You Wanna Do”, and Vidya Makan as only survivor Catherine Parr is just the balm we need, with her smooth and sublime voice soaring through “I Don’t Need Your Love”.
Considering women are still fighting for equality, safety and respect, this show may touch a few nerves, but it’s done with humour and energy. It’s a reminder of the struggles of the past and the importance of standing with one another. As the finale “The Megasix” says: “We’re so much more.”
Pictured top: A sensational cast gives voice to Henry VIII’s six queens. Photo: James D Morgan/Getty Images
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