Listen Up, Queens! Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss Tell Us the Story of Their Hit Musical Six
Two young writers get through finals at Cambridge by writing a musical. They didn't expect it to become a cult West End smash.
Listen up; let me tell you a story.
It's a story about two students at Cambridge who wrote a musical that became a British cultural phenomenon. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss were just trying to get through finals when they wrote a musical that turned the six wives of Tudor monarch Henry VIII into pop stars. It became an unexpected success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and an even bigger hit when it defied the odds by transferring to London's West End and earning five Olivier nominations.
Eleven million streams of the cast album later, Six, which has become Britain's homegrown answer to Hamilton, is poised for American domination. Its US premiere is ongoing through August 4 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, with another production scheduled to begin August 21 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.
Broadway might not be far behind— a statement that not only delights young writers Marlow and Moss, but baffles them, too.
First things first. Can you explain a little bit about the conceit of Six?
Toby Marlow: The show works like a pop concert, but within that, there's a narrative of the six wives of Henry VIII holding a competition to see who's gonna become the Beyoncé of their girl group. They decide whoever had the worst time with the King gets to be the leading lady, and they step forward to do a song in their own unique style. Each one is inspired by a small palate of different pop stars, ranging from Beyoncé to Lily Allen to Britney.
How do you even come up with an idea like that?
Toby: We were at Cambridge and the university theater society wanted to take an original musical to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We wanted to do something that would stand out, something that played around with the form, and something that had a majority female cast. So many of our friends were talented female and nonbinary performers who never got to sing fun songs or have fun roles. One of the main groups of historical women who hadn't been represented in musical theater were the six wives. I rang Lucy and I said, "It's the six wives and it's a girl group and a pop concert."
Lucy Moss: I remember being like, "Oh my god, that could be so bad and so lame. If we're gonna do this, we have to make sure it's not terrible." Once we started writing it, I was super on board. But the first imagining? Even now, if you explain the show to people, a lot of them will be like, "Ewww."
But people went for it, obviously.
Lucy: We thought the fringe was just students doing their own thing. People came to see it. We didn't realize that could happen.
Toby: We'd say, "Wouldn't it be cool if a semi-famous director came to see it through a relative and gave us feedback?" That was the bar of our expectations. When producers started coming along and having meetings with us, that was streams ahead of any expectation we had for the show.
Lucy: We met Wendy Barnes and Andy Barnes, who are our UK producers, and then we did the show back at Cambridge for a week, and that's when George Stiles and Kenny Wax came to see the show. We liked them all, and they got together to produce it.
What do you make of the show's success at this point, with the ongoing American premiere in Chicago, five Olivier nominations, and millions of streams of the album?
Lucy: Eleven million streams. I can't really wrap my head around it.
Toby: Last night, we were in a taxi and had the poster with us. It says "8 million streams" on it, and we're like, "We should tell them it's at 11 million." Then we looked at each other like, "What the hell did we just say?" Six months ago, if anyone mentioned Broadway, we would laugh out loud.
Lucy: We'd say it as a joke. And now, while there are no plans to go to Broadway at the moment, it's not out of the realm of possibility. We keep having these really surreal conversations.
Toby: I just texted Andy Barnes. It's currently at 300,000 streams a day, just under 2 million per week. Another stat we were told recently is that at the moment, we're the second-most streamed theater album on Spotify, after Hamilton. I think Spotify is drunk at the moment.
Lucy: That's crazy. Who are these people?
Toby: It's me and my mum!