David Mirvish/SiX, The Musical, book, music and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, co-directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, Royal Alexandra Theatre, until Feb. 11, 2024.
First, let me say that this review is a minority report. Despite my being underwhelmed by SiX, The Musical, judging by the opening night response, the show is a giant hit. David Mirvish has struck gold with this home-grown Canadian production about the six wives of Henry VIII.
To say that SiX is a phenomenon is an understatement. Young Turks doesn’t even begin to describe the staggering early success of the creators.
The composer/lyricists of the musical, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, both born in 1994, were in their final year at Cambridge University when they wrote SiX. The two had become friends at Cambridge’s famous Amateur Dramatic Club Theatre (ADC) during a production of Rent, when Marlow played Angel, and Moss was a dancer.
As the story goes, in 2016, the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society asked Marlow to create a new musical to be presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the following year. It was Marlow who thought up the idea of a musical based on the six wives of Henry VIII, and asked Moss to partner him on the project.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The show conquered Britain, the West End, and the United States. SiX opened on Broadway on Oct 3, 2021, garnering eight Tony Award nominations and winning two – Best Original Score and Best Costume Design. The cast album, SiX: Live on Opening Night, was streamed 3.5 million times within the first two weeks of its release. (Very smart social media marketing attracted the younger set, and those enthusiastic screamers were in loud evidence at the performance.)
There have been SiX productions in Australia, Korea, Hungary, Poland, and now, Canada. Would you believe the musical has also been performed on several Norwegian Cruise Line ships? There are also two different touring companies crisscrossing the U.S., not to mention that the show is still on stage in New York and London. Like I said, a phenomenon.
SiX, The Musical, takes the form of a pop concert with storytelling. The six queens hold hand mikes throughout the show and are accompanied by an on-stage, 4-member, all-girl band cleverly called the Ladies in Waiting.
In fact, Marlow and Moss were partly inspired by the documentary style of Beyoncé’s 2011 concert/video album, Live at Roseland: Elements of 4. They also incorporated aspects of real-life pop stars, which they call Queenspiration, into each of the six characters, and which are outlined in the program. For example, Katherine Howard’s Queenspiration is Ariana Grande and Britney Spears.
The concert is a contest, with the audience being told that they will choose a winner at the end. Actually, the premise of the contest is very funny. Which of Henry VIII’s six wives suffered the most at the hands of their common husband?
The little verse that helps history students remember the facts is the throughline – Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
Each of the queens tell us their sob story in historical order – Catherine of Aragon (Jaz Robinson), Anne Boleyn (Julia Pulo), Jane Seymour (Maggie Lacasse), Anna Of Cleves (Krystal Hernandez), Katherine Howard (Elysia Cruz), and Catherine Parr (Lauren Mariasoosay). Four of the actors would appear to be Canadian, and two American.
Each queen gets her own song, with the others functioning as backup singers or a chorus line. Between numbers, they are bitchy to each other and talk directly to the audience to win support. In fact, there is fierce energy on the stage. Moss co-directed the show with fellow Brit Jamie Armitage, and it snaps, crackles and pops throughout. The audience really responded to the force majeure, tsunami, cyclone — call it what you want — that pours off the stage.
In terms of performance, all the queens can sing and dance up a storm. That’s a given, but Lacasse’s more retiring Jane Seymour, Hernandez’s aloof and statuesque Anna of Cleves, Pulo’s fiery, pepper-pot Anne Boleyn and Cruz’s sex kitten Katherine Howard caught my eye more often. It’s interesting that the older characters, Catherine of Aragon and Catherine Parr, were a bit eclipsed by the younger element. Collectively, however, the performers do push the all-important diversity button.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT SiX, THE MUSICAL
The creative team would appear to all be British, and what a talented group they are.
Designer Gabriella Slade absolutely deserves her Tony Award for Best Costumes because they are simply fabulous. For each queen, she has brilliantly blended aspects of Tudor dress with 21st century sleaze and sex, and yet each outfit is very individual and reflects a unique personality. For example, the more demure Jane Seymour has the longest skirt and the most modest top. Nonetheless, eye-popping bling, glitter and fishnet stockings abound. These queens are pop icon divas, after all, and absolutely look the part.
Choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille has provided the obligatory non-stop, tits ‘n’ ass, intricate movement that’s performed mostly en masse. It seems like she transformed every individual beat of the music into a step, so the dance is like an assault to the senses, with hands and arms echoing the feet. These queens are in motion throughout the entire show and when they perform together, it is quite hypnotic – just like you’d expect from a pop concert. Think Madonna and Michael Jackson and their backups.
The whole production is an actual sound and light show. Emma Bailey’s towering single wall, set with platforms for the band, is reminiscent of a castle wall. It is the backdrop that provides the playground for Tim Deiling’s array of lights that turn on and off to present ever-changing patterns and, together, contribute more bling and glitter to the show.
MY PROBLEMS WITH SiX, THE MUSICAL
DICTION. DICTION. DICTION. How many times do I have to whinge and wine about the lack thereof? Does no director ever go out into the audience to check on clarity? Marlow and Moss’ lyrics have really clever moments, but I missed words due to mannered singing and slurred delivery. I’m not familiar with the album, so the show’s songs are new to me. I tried to listen carefully, but alas, some lyrics remain a mystery.
The music is can-belto pop/rock, and quite frankly, it all sounded the same after a while, which is a common factor I have found in many of these original pop/rock musicals that are currently peppering the stage. They clearly have their following, but I’d like more variety in the music.
I also found little character development beyond a single stereotype for each. The queens were really all cut from the same cloth. The only major difference was in their individual stories. Is it the fault of the directors, or in the writing? Certainly the audience didn’t seem to care, or, maybe in the pop/rock world, character doesn’t matter beyond a single known.
The show ends with the queens finding female empowerment, and while the audience certainly responded enthusiastically to this Girl Power, I found it quite contrived. It seemed a little too obvious for my taste.
Concerning hit shows, the Mirvish organization has to make a decision — a home grown Canadian production, or bring in an American touring company? Well, David Mirvish certainly made the right decision in this case. The Canadian production of SiX, The Musical can sit happily ensconced at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and run forever.
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