The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Have you heard about the six wives of the historical Henry VIII? Even if you have, you haven’t met them, but SIX, written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and onstage now at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), gives you the chance to do just that. But, beware, these wives aren’t entirely accurate representations. Instead, they talk about their “profile pics,” use phrases like “LOL,” and spew on-purpose anachronisms. The result is a delightfully fun, often irreverent take on feminine history, all packed into 80 fast-paced minutes.
The show opens in the form of a contest/concert. Each of the wives, clad in sparkly, anime-style costumes designed by Gabriella Slade, proposes that she plead her case. The “winner” will be the one who tells the worst, most woeful tale. Working off that simple premise, the story bursts to life, with each wife sharing a song and a story of her own. Throughout, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s wickedly playful choreography guides the way and adds immense visual appeal.
All the action plays out against a castle-like set that mimics a concert stage, complete with live musicians, and includes all the lights, bells, and whistles one would expect. Catherine of Aragon, portrayed by a spunky Gerianne Pérez, is up first, and she’s quickly followed by the unforgettable Anne Boleyn, portrayed by Zan Berube. Berube is a giggly, perky, blonde tornado who steals the show with shrill vocals and a flair for comedy. She’s followed by a more tender performance from Amina Faye, who lends her powerful voice and impressive vocal range to her role as Jane Seymour.
As the script continues to mix the soft and the silly, Cecilia Snow steps up to the mic to portray a tough, take-charge, and completely charming Anna of Cleves. She’s followed by an adorable, pink-haired Aline Mayagoitia, who hands out insults and delivers sick burns as Katherine Howard. And, though her song is funny in its own right, Mayagoitia does a good job of showing how the humorous lyrics mask pain and speak to the real plight these women faced, a plight that, in many ways, isn't that far removed from modern times.
Catherine Parr, played by a no-nonsense Sydney Parra, is the last to sing her song, and she changes the whole game. Thanks to her, what begins as a contest culminates in a coming-together moment with a healthy dose of self-realization and plenty of girl power thrown in the mix.
The evening speeds by all too quickly, delivering lots of laughs and joy along the way. When it’s all over, viewers will wish they could go back and watch it all again. And, honestly, with lyrics this multi-layered and such smooth direction by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, that would be a true and inexhaustible treat.
Smart, smooth, and never boring, SIX changes the musical game for the better. It’s proof that you don’t need three hours or convoluted plots to entertain and enlighten an audience. It’s also sneakily educational and decidedly female-positive, kind of like the Spice Girls . . . but a lot more modern and self-aware. With lyrics and characters that stay in your head (and your heart) for days, this one is a can’t-miss performance you’ll want to play on repeat.
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