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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

‘SIX’ Reigns Supreme at the Hippodrome

Merely three days removed from the coronation of King Charles III, the Hippodrome raises the curtain on Six, a musical’s take on the six wives of Henry VIII, which is in the midst of a national tour.  I cannot say for sure if the events occurring during the marriage(s?) of Charles III will result in a musical five hundred years from now, but I can’t rule it out. And with his genetics, he could still be around to authorize it.

The production at the Hippodrome is electric—literally and figuratively—featuring six top-notch female performers as Henry’s wives and queens and an array of spectacular effects. Six is a blend of razzle, dazzle, sizzle, energy, humor, sparkling costumes, attitude, and an abundance of fierceness not seen in most musicals.

Six is a British musical comedy in which the original Broadway production earned nine Tony Award nominations in 2020 capturing two. “Six: Live On Opening Night Broadway” debuted as Number 1 on the Billboard cast album charts and surpassed 6 million streams in its first month.

Under the direction of Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss, the latter of whom co-wrote the book, music and lyrics with Toby Marlow, Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast.  Though the accuracy of the historical depiction has been questioned, the wives and their fates are true.

 “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”

In a sort of a kvetch fest, Henry VIII’s six Tudor queens hold a modern pop concert to relate their gloomy stories of victimhood involving the king. They share the abuse they experienced under Henry: the misogyny, the infidelity and the brutality. The lead singer will have been determined in a contest by who suffered the most while being Henry’s wife.

To be sure, each wife had her miseries—some even lost their heads—but through song and witty dialogue they are hell bent on ridiculing the others in the pronouncements of their hardships. After all, it is a competition.

Ultimately, they decide to scuttle the notion that their legacy is so tied to one man and instead agree to re-write their own stories that celebrate womanhood, modern-day girl power and a poke in the eye of “patriarchal structure” for good measure. They do not want to be known as simply one of Henry’s wives.

All of the performers demonstrate exceptional mezzo-soprano vocals, comedic timing and dance moves that are choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Each queen has her own unique story to tell and each is linked to a musical genre and a contemporary pop star or a combination of several as Marlow and Moss created composites of these stars as inspiration or “Queenspiration” for the characters.

Catherine of Aragon (played by Gerianne Pérez) is Henry’s first and longest wed wife. Despite her being loyal, Henry divorced her as he chased what turned out to be his second wife, Anne Bolyeyn. Ms. Pérez is a commanding figure who would be a combination of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Hudson in her solo “No Way.”

Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast. 

For her part, Anne Boleyn (Zan Berube) tried to deal with Henry’s infidelity by making him jealous by flirting with others. That strategy backfired as she lost her head as a result.  She nails the comic relief aspect of the show as she constantly reminds the other wives that nothing could be worse than having her head chopped off. Ms. Berube brings Miley Cyrus. Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne to mind with her rendition of “Don’t Lose Your Head.”

Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour (Amina Faye), claims she was most loved by Henry but under the condition she bears a male child. She died after giving birth to Prince Edward. Ms. Faye’s astoundingly moving torch song “Heart of Stone” channels Adele’s “Hello.”

Terica Marie plays Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. She brings Nicki Minaj and Rihanna into the fold with “Get Down,” a danceable rap song about her post-divorce life.

Wife number five is Katherine Howard (Aline Mayagoitia), a self-confident though abused young woman by those in power over her who also wound up headless. She is excellent in the upbeat “All You Wanna Do” that would make Ariana Grande and Britney Spears proud.

The sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr (Sydney Parra), had multiple marriages of her own with Henry being the third of four. Parr was remembered for “surviving.” She pushes most of the feminist themes throughout and her wonderful rendition of “I Don’t Need Your Love” is inspired by Alicia Keys Emeli Sandé.

The rollicking finale “Six” performed by The Queens is a celebration of each other and themselves and puts the exclamation point on a terrific show.

Three cheers to the technical crews from the tour and the Hippodrome Theatre for transforming the elegant stage to a powerhouse concert venue. Tim Deiling’s lighting design is beyond fantastic as is Paul Gatehouse’s sound design.  Emma Bailey’s set is simple enough with nine illuminated cathedral-like arches as the basic scenery. Thus, when combined with the brilliant lighting effects, the stage becomes a stadium concert spectacle. The boisterous cheering from the audience clearly adds to that ambience.

The orchestra under the music direction of Lena Gabrielle was every bit a concert band mounted on a platform upstage providing exceptional backup to the vocalists. The rich score includes some soul, hip-hop and house music that carries the witty and descriptive lyrics. Even a heart-wrenching torch song is part of the catalogue.

Imaginative colorful, glittering costumes designed by Gabriella Slade bring additional sparkle to the production.  They feature gleaming, sexy metallic attire with boots and crowns as each of the queens are attired in a distinctive color and style that give off a Spice Girls vibe.

Six packs all the elements of scintillating theatre in its performances, music and technical prowess into a tight, fast-paced, highly entertaining 80 minutes. Its message of independence, pride and feminism and support for one another resonates.

I don’t know if Charles III ever saw Six but if he had, I’m sure he will be mindful of his legacy and not follow the path of Henry VIII. It won’t be pretty.

Running Time. One hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Six runs through May 14 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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