Royalty is once again in residence in Chicago with the return of Six, the hit musical that reimagines the six wives of England's King Henry VIII as modern pop stars. For the second time in three years, a new cast of queens has granted the city its first royal audience. Chicago Shakespeare Theater produced the North American premiere of Six in 2019, featuring a cast that later transferred to Broadway. Now the first North American tour has launched at Broadway in Chicago's CIBC Theatre, where it plays through July 3.
Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss while they were students at Cambridge University, Six has rocketed to success since its 2017 debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with productions in the West End, on Broadway, and several international tours. Moss, who also co-directs with Jamie Armitage, became the youngest woman to direct a musical on Broadway when it opened in 2021.
The show's premise is simple: Sharing the stage on their "Divorced, Beheaded, Live" concert tour, each queen performs a solo number to make the case that her marriage to Henry VIII was the worst of them all. As the women sing through a collective laundry list of grievances — mistresses, miscarriages, abuse, and, yes, beheadings — it becomes an all-out battle, albeit one fought through witty lyrics and sarcastic dialogue, to prove who was traumatized most.
An 11th-hour plot twist turns the singing contest on its head, uniting the queens in a feel-good finale that reimagines history, or herstory, with these powerful women, rather than their ex-husband, at the center. Although depth of plot and character development are not the show's strong points — the pop-concert staging and minimal dialogue do not lend much nuance — the uplifting themes of female friendship and empowerment nevertheless come through clearly.
As noted in the program, each character draws "Queenspiration" from real-life pop stars, including Adele, Ariana Grande, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna. The score by Marlow and Moss reflects the diverse source material: each queen sings in a distinctive musical style, backed by a live band dubbed "The Ladies in Waiting." The fast-paced lyrics offer an abundance of Easter eggs for keen-eared history buffs, literary nerds, and fans of musical theater and pop music alike.
The first North American tour, nicknamed the "Aragon Tour" (to be followed by a "Boleyn Tour" that will travel to a different lineup of cities), features a cast of powerhouse vocalists and charismatic dancers. The queens truly look the part of pop stars in costumes designed by Gabriella Slade, which blend nods to Tudor fashion with red-carpet-ready bling. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's choreography complements the show's eclectic musical influences and is delivered with boundless energy by the cast, despite the challenge of dancing in bedazzled, high-heeled boots.
Playing Catherine of Aragon, Khaila Wilcoxon sets the tone with a rich alto voice and a fiercely fed-up attitude in "No Way," the Beyoncé-inspired number in which the first of Henry's wives loses her long-enduring patience with her unfaithful husband. Next up, Storm Lever provides an entertaining foil as the flirty, fun-loving Anne Boleyn, who peppers the show's dialogue with snarky one-liners and gallows humor about her fate as a beheaded queen.
Jasmine Forsberg brings the vocal fireworks as Jane Seymour, remembered as the king's one true love and the only wife to bear him a son. Her impressive high riffs in the tender ballad "Heart of Stone" were a musical highlight on opening night. Olivia Donalson's Anna of Cleves — the queen who was rejected when Henry found her less attractive in person than her portrait suggested — is delightfully carefree and comfortable in her own skin, laughing off the judgmental opinions of her ex-husband and living it up as a wealthy divorcee.
As Katherine Howard, Didi Romero rises to the challenging emotional journey of "All You Wanna Do," the deceptively upbeat number that spirals into darker depictions of sexual abuse with each repetition of its bubblegum pop chorus. Gabriela Carrillo follows as the sincere, thoughtful Catherine Parr, with smooth, soulful vocals in the defiant solo of the final queen — the one who survived.
Although the queens' individual songs are interspersed with three flashy ensemble numbers, the 80-minute show flies by and leaves the audience wanting more. It's the perfect pop concert for people who aren't into pop music. It's the perfect musical for people who aren't into musicals. While its target demographic may be the young women who show up to the theater in elaborate cosplay, the catchy tunes, clever lyrics, thrilling choreography, and positive themes surely make it hard for just about anyone to resist dancing in their seat.