A 26-Year-Old Woman Is Directing One of the Biggest Musicals of the Broadway Season
Last night, the musical Six began previews at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre, marking the first time the West End megahit has performed before a paying audience in New York. That musical, which resurrects the six wives of Henry VIII as a girl band, is all about history. So it seems fitting that history was made last night when Lucy Moss became the youngest female director ever to take the helm on Broadway.
This Story of the Week will explain who Moss is and how she has managed to skyrocket into the director's chair for one of the biggest musicals of the Broadway season.
Who is Lucy Moss?
Lucy Moss is a writer and director behind the new Broadway musical Six. Originally from the West London neighborhood Ealing, Moss studied dance from an early age before transitioning into directing. She met her collaborator and writing partner, Toby Marlow, at Cambridge where she was studying history, and directing as many shows as possible with the university theater society. While they were both studying for their final exams, Marlow came up with the idea of a theatrical pop concert based on the six wives of Henry VIII. That show became Six, which made its world premiere at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Instantly beloved, Six went on to a brief London run, a UK tour, and a sit-down production on the West End that is still packing in the crowds. In addition to the now-previewing Broadway mounting, a production is currently running at the Sydney Opera House. Six has also been appearing on the high seas via Norwegian Cruise Lines.
While Six has been the career breakthrough from Marlow and Moss, it's not their only project. In 2018 they created (with performer Zak Ghazi-Torbati) the confessional cabaret Hot Gay Time Machine, which WhatsOnStage described as "camp as Christmas." Speaking of, they also collaborated on Courtney Act's Christmas Extravaganza. You can watch a big gay production number from that show here.
Is Lucy Moss the only director of Six?
She is not. Moss is codirecting Six with Jamie Armitage, who is also 26. Armitage was brought on as director before Six was even completed, which proved to be a major incentive for Marlow and Moss to write expeditiously in the months leading up to the 2017 Fringe. Moss and Armitage have known each other since they were teenagers, and it was Armitage who gave Moss her first gig as a choreographer at Cambridge (she staged a routine to the Vengaboys dance classic "Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!"). Moss was also the original choreographer for Six, but that job passed to Carrie-Anne Ingrouille following the Edinburgh run, with Moss becoming codirector.
Armitage and Moss have seen Six through an incredible evolution from that early student production in the Edinburgh Fringe, and elements are still changing: A laugh line in which the queens beseech the audience to "remember us from your GCSEs" (a reference to the exams all British students take around age 16) has become "remember us from PBS" for the Yankee audience. Apparently, it's a collaboration that works, taking Six on a rarely trod path from the Fringe all the way to Broadway. The last time a bunch of college kids got together to write a musical and took it to Broadway was in 2008. It was called Glory Days, and it closed after one performance in 2008. So if Six does better than that (and it's a safe bet that it will), that's already a huge achievement.
Are Moss and Armitage the youngest directors ever on Broadway?
No. That distinction goes to Orson Welles, who was just 20 when he helmed the Federal Theatre Project's production of Macbeth. Featuring an entirely black cast and set in the Caribbean, it earned the nickname "Voodoo Macbeth" and became an instant sensation when it opened at Harlem's Lafayette Theatre on April 14, 1936 (it moved downtown to the Adelphi Theatre that summer). Writing for the New York Times, Brooks Atkinson (the namesake of the venue in which Six is currently running) praised Welles's staging as "uncommonly resourceful in individual scenes," but lamented, "it has missed the sweep and scope of poetic tragedy." It's a mixed review for a Broadway newbie, and I bet Armitage and Moss can top it. The final few minutes of the FTP's Macbeth have been preserved in the above film, which serves as a testament to just how radically acting styles have shifted over the last 85 years.
There have been other twentysomething directors on Broadway: Joseph Pevney was 22 when he helmed the patriotic musical revue Let Freedom Sing at the Longacre Theatre in 1942. Elizabeth Swados was 27 when her devised musical Runaways transferred from the Public Theater to Broadway's Plymouth Theatre (now known as the Schoenfeld) in 1978. Moss has now taken Swados's title as the youngest woman ever to direct a Broadway show.
Of course, Broadway has also had its fair share of remarkably old directors: With an angry boxer's spring in his step, Arthur Laurents helmed the 2009 revival of West Side Story at age 91. The legendary George Abbott earned his final directorial credit at age 100 with Broadway, the short-lived 1987 revival of the backstager Abbott wrote with Philip Dunning in 1926. Abbott also made a memorable appearance at the 1994 Tony Awards, just days before his 107th birthday (see above).
Moss has now joined the likes of Abbott and Laurents with a show that seems to be taking the world by storm. Speaking with WhatsOnStage about her superlative youth, Moss said, "I turned 26 two weeks ago and honestly I've been grieving the loss of my early twenties ever since. But this news has really made me feel like a spring chicken again! So just a huge shout out to the patriarchy and historic oppression of female-identifying people for making me feel super young and glam." Somewhere, Mr. Abbott is smiling and scratching his head.