Review By Lisa Lanzi
Created by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss SIX premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017 as a Cambridge University student production, going on to open in the West End and on Broadway. As evidenced by the ecstatic and well-informed opening night audience, this global pop phenomenon is graced with a soundtrack achieving in excess of 450 million streams and an incredible 3 billion views on TikTok.
Now in Adelaide after a long stint at the Sydney Opera House, this show delivers so much more than expected. I presumed it would be a moderately entertaining 75 minutes, but the talent and fierceness on show made us all sit up and thrill to the live sound and spectacle; far more so than watching the videos or streaming the songs - live is always better! Another huge plus to my mind is the opportunity presented here for female performers to shine. Each Queen was truly excellent in her role and The Ladies in Waiting (onstage band) were simply exceptional.
Strictly, this is a concert not a musical, but it is a terrific, original concept drawing on history but not told on stage in this format before. There is no plot as such and more history than I predicted, although some of the assertions about the ‘wives’ are more historical conjecture than fact. In general, it is fascinating to me that historical specifics about women are often lost until some bright researcher unearths the information from amongst the plethora available about male accomplishment. Here, the histories provide context for the songs each Queen delivers telling of their life, love(s), demise or divorce. As the first song “Ex Wives” proclaims : “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”. And… now they are LIVE, with this ode paying some homage perhaps to the “Cellblock Tango”. The concert structure also allows the cast to break the fourth wall and interact directly with the audience as they strut, dance, sing and bicker delightedly.
It is still exciting to once again inhabit a packed theatre after the rigours of the pandemic saw so many artistic endeavours stalled. Opening night was alive with the crowd’s anticipation but for me the magic was a little slow to arrive; nerves maybe with a new venue and town to conquer? However, it wasn’t long before the cast relaxed into the flow and their energy morphed from a little forced to full on captivating with six individual voices to showcase spirited dialogue, solos and some kickass harmonies.
In their hyper-real world a makeshift competition is mooted to determine which Queen was dealt the worst hand as a wife of Henry the VIII. Phoenix Jackson Mendoza, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Kiana Daniele, Chelsea Dawson and Vidya Makan are all phenomenal entertainers with voices and dance moves that beguile us as any pop diva should. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography was tight, sexy, and beautiful in its use of both upper and lower body motifs as well as some complex footwork. The song/ballad highlight is delivered by Loren Hunter (as Jane Seymour) performing “Heart of Stone” with amazing range plus empathy for a character who doesn’t live to watch her son grow up. Each song in the show is gifted with a ‘Queenspiration’ diva credit, this one inspired by Adele and Sia.
Another stand out was Vidya Makan’s Catherine Parr, the last and surviving Queen. At this end of the show the character urges the women to change their narratives and eschew the tragic victim image. They agree to celebrate their own lives apart from their role as one of six wives to a debauched king, claiming their fierce womanhood. Here, the contemporary ethos of strong women is celebrated and Makan sings of her Queen’s accomplishments with a distinctly Alicia Keys’ vibe: “Remember that I was a writer / I wrote books and psalms and meditations / Fought for female education / So all my women can independently study scripture / I even got a woman to paint my picture.”
Each performer captures the essence of their character in song, movement and style. Gabriella Slade’s costuming sparkles (literally) with a nod to the Tudor bodice, some punk/steampunk adornments, glittering heeled boots and pop princess sass. The two level set design from designer/architect Emma Bailey gives the stage an arena spectacle presence for the Queens to strut upon with neon elements and central staircase for extra dazzle. The music too is without fault, the female musicians contributing with verve to the whole ambience. And thank you universe for insanely great technical production. The sound mix was perfect.
This is a fresh take on the classic Musical genre with exactly the buzz the world needs at this time. I’m a convert and I urge you to go and experience the spectacle and just bask in the excellent musical/visual escape by an uber-talented team of creatives.
Image Credit: Getty Images