Riffs, Shimmies, Herstory: “Six”

Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack, at center) performs “Get Down” in SIX, written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage.
Photo: Liz Lauren

Presented by the American Repertory Theatre
By Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Direction by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Music direction by Roberta Duchak
Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille 

Aug. 21 – Sept. 29, 2019
The Loeb Drama Center
64 Brattle Street
Cambridge MA 02138
A.R.T. on Facebook 

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warning: sexual abuse of a minor, gas lighting, female objectification

(Cambridge, MA) Six is catchy like Hamilton. They have similar harmonic elements; both borrow heavily from popular music formats. Unlike Hamilton, Six lends its female characters depth beyond the deeds of a man. The women of six will be remembered for more than a shared husband. They’ll be remembered for living and their shared husband. 

In Six, the six wives of Henry VIII contend for bragging rights via a singing contest. The winner gets to claim the title of Worst Marriage Ever. King Hal was not an easy man to live with. Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), Katherine Howard (Courtney Mack), and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) sing for the right to complain the loudest about the supreme head of the Church of England. 

Six is a girl group concert (think Little Mix, not Spice Girls). It has all of the trappings of a girl group concert: athletic ensemble dances, cheeky commentary, flashy costumes, and enthusiastic belting. It also has an emotionally engaged cast and band (!) rocking out for everyone’s benefit. It’s a great night out for those of us who enjoy this kind of entertainment.  

The cast is brilliant. They give incredible performances. Their stamina, charisma, and talent can teach even the most seasoned performer something about contemporary musical performance. None of these talented performers are local. Potential ticket buyers who prefer to support local artists with their money should keep this in mind. 

The production’s band The Ladies in Waiting (Julia Schade, Kate Foss, Kimi Hayes, Elena Bonomo) perform in Six just as well as the cast does. Like many other productions, the band plays on stage with the cast. Unlike other productions, their faces and bodies are active during the production. They are acting! They look up, they react to the cast, and each other. Their role isn’t just to play an instrument but to actively create theatre with the cast as joint cast members. It’s amazing what can be accomplished by looking up.   

Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks, at center) performs “No Way” in SIX, written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage
Photo: Liz Lauren

Six attempts to be subversive with limited success. The casting is visibly intersectional* but this glam-rock musical falls short of communicating any meaningful feminist message. It is feminist in that it passes the Bechdel test; but it’s selling a thinly-veiled, capitalism-friendly equivalent of what feminism actually is: the belief that all people are deserving of equal personhood. While Six’s educational value is debatable, it isn’t actively harming anyone. There is great value to be found in harmless entertainment.

The Six Studio Cast Recording is available on Spotify. It is good but even the best recording can’t compete with a live performance. Give the album a listen but see the musical live for the full experience. 

*intersectional feminism

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