Thursday, January 19, 2023

Theater Review: Six at the Bushnell


The North American SIX Aragon Tour. Photo: Joan Marcus.

By Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage 
Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
The Bushnell, Hartford
through Sunday, Jan. 22

By Lauren Yarger
The state of theater still is hanging in the balance after the pandemic as tourists still aren't returning in full force and even locals are avoiding New York City in the face of rising crime and spiking Covid numbers.

So I find that I am getting more and more questions about the quality of tours hitting regional theaters as people decide whether to see shows closer to home. This week I had the opportunity to catch the North American tour of SIX which won a number of awards after finally opening post pandemic on Broadway (this show had been scheduled to open the night Broadway officially went dark  in March 2022). I had caught it the week before, then saw it again when in opened in 2021 and I loved it both times. The soundtrack is a favorite. So after recommending it so many times, I wanted to see how the tour held up myself. I wasn't disappointed in the show which plays the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.

The touring cast features Khaila Wilcoxon as Catherine of Aragon, Storm Lever as Anne Boleyn, Jasmine Forsberg as Jane Seymour, Olivia Donalson as Anna of Cleves, Didi Romero as Katherine Howard, and Gabriela Carrillo as Catherine Parr. The cast also includes Kelsee Kimmel, Erin Ramirez, Cassie Silva and Kelly Denice Taylor.  The actresses all hit the notes. The biggest differences here are in playing to a larger house -- some of the oomph of the score is diffused. Lighting here needs a few tweaks as some segments were very dark. Otherwise, what you experiemce on Broadway is pretty much  the same as these ex-wives of Henry VIII duke it out reality-show style to determine who had it the worst married to one of England's most notorious monarchs and will win the Queen of the Castle crown. 

Each queen gets a solo to tell her tragic tale (and each one is an homage to a modern pop music diva).

Here's my review from the NY show if you want the details. Some of the lyrics, quite clever, but quick, are hard to catch, so pick up a CD of the soundtrack available for sale in the Bushnell lobby to bring you up to speed either before or after you take in the show.

This tour plays Columbus, OH, Fort Myers, FL, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los ANgeles, Costa Mesa, CA and San Diego. A second tour plays other cities across the US. Click here for info.

NY Review:
Laugh-out-loud jokes and loud, pounding music are not exactly what come to mind when pondering the plight of Henry VIII's six unfortunate wives, but you will find yourself laughing and bopping to the beat while enjoying SIX: The Musical,  Broadway's exciting version of the West End hit by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.

Directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, these six women finally get their moment in the spotlight, both in the story and on stage. SIX was one of the tragedies of the pandemic, set to open on the night Broadway went dark back in March 2020. Now, back to tell their stories, the wives compete in a reality-TV mode to see who has the most tragic story from her time as one of the wives of Henry. They each have a song (all done beltingly or balladly beautifully and in homage to pop song divas) which explain the theme of their experiences: divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.

Here's a short history lesson for those of you who aren't up on the six wives of Henry VIII:
Catherine of Aragon was Henry's first wife, but when she couldn't produce a male heir, Henry turned his eye to the bewitching Anne Boleyn. When the pope wouldn't grant him an annulment, he declared himself the head of the new Church of England, got rid of Catherine (divorced) and married Anne any way.  Unfortunately for Anne, she too only produced a girl (the future Queen Elizabeth I), so Henry got rid of her (beheaded) and married Jane Seymour. Henry got his desired son and male heir but lost Jane who suffered complications in childbirth (died). 

Next, Henry saw a portrait of Anne of Cleves and summoned her to England to become wife number four. She didn't look all that fetching in person, however, so Henry decided he wanted out of the marriage (divorce), set her up in a nice palace and called her "sister" instead of wife. The king, who was SO good at making spousal-type decisions, decided a child bride would be a good idea and married Anne Boleyn's cousin, Katherine Howard. Plagued by gout, obesity and probably a host of other illnesses, Henry wasn't exactly in prime baby-making condition, but he still expected a spare male heir from young Katherine. She turned to some younger male friends to help seal the deal, but the plan backfired when she was caught cheating.  So long, Katherine (beheaded). Finally, Henry chose mature, pious Catherine Parr for his sixth queen. About five years later, he died. She was the only one who survived. 

In such a tragic story, Marlow and Moss find lots of humor. And they manage to modernize women from the 16th century to create an exciting energizing show that appeals to young audience members (there were lots at the Brooks Atkinson the night I attended) with color-blind casting  for those wanting to see persons of color, rather than historically accurate portrayals on stage. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's choreography is energetic and hasn't lost any of its oomph with alterations made with Covid safety in mind. Costumes by Gabreiella Slade are bright and brilliant; the set (Emma Bailey, design) is simple and houses the all-female band, the “Ladies in Waiting.” Tim Deiling's lighting design competes the set for the reality-show concert theme, which thankfully isn't overdone. 

The pop music is loud, percussion-driven and fun. I bought the soundtrack after seeing and loving the show in March of 2020 and it's a favorite (Catherine Parr's solo "I Don't Need Your Love" is the weakest, as though after pounding out so many great tunes, the songwriters just didn't have enough energy to come up with one more.) Most of the others are catchy and will have you humming them long after you leave the theater.

Getting the soundtrack in advance isn't a bad idea. The lyrics are quite clever and vital to the storytelling, but the sound on stage (Paul Gatehouse) doesn't always pick them up and if you don't know Henry's story or all the words to the songs, you could feel like you are missing something in this fast-paced 80 minutes with no intermission.  The score features orchestrations by Tom Curran with music supervision and vocal arrangements by Joe Beighton and US Music Supervision by Roberta Duchak.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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