Given that Henry VIII created the Church Of England to kickstart the story that is SIX The Musical (usurping the Roman Catholic Church so that he could get god’s blessing to annul his marriage to first wife, Catherine/Katherine), it seems fitting to paraphrase from the C of E’s 1662 Prayer Book to set the scene for this review.
We do not presume to come to Her Majesty’s, O merciful Theatre,
trusting in our preconceived ideas,
but in your abundant and great programming.
We are not worthy so much as to screw up our noses
at your promise of a witty, pop-fuelled musical packed full of sass;
but you are the same Theatre
whose character is always to program wisely.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Theatre,
so that we might encourage all Adelaideans to see this show,
and to bring their friends,
that our conservative tastes may be refreshed by these six, powerful divas,
and our souls enlivened by the heavenly music of their Ladies-In-Waiting band,
and that we may evermore keep our heads, and honour their “herstory”. Amen.
From the opening chords of SIX The Musical, an energy permeated the theatre, triggering a field of smiles throughout the audience, and rarely did this enlivening mood subside. In fact, if you don’t leave with a smile beaming across your face, then it’s off with your head!
SIX is exactly as described on the label: an electrifying musical phenomenon by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, in which the six women who were married to King Henry VIII at some point in his tempestuous and desperate life, take turns in singing us through their stories.
In a shrewdly-orchestrated show, Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza), Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), Anna of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson) and Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan) work brilliantly together as a girl-power pop ensemble, with all the power, deft patter, and tightly-reined harmony you could imagine.
This sextet weaves historical references with contemporary social media jargon (everybody chill, it’s totes god’s will) with aplomb, all the while effusing a “bad ass”, cheeky, sit-down-and-listen-to-me attitude. If history was taught like this in school, there’d be waiting lists to join the classes!
And they commanded attention, not only through voice but through stage presence and costuming.
Glitter, sequins, and colour-theming (a nice touch choosing green for Anne Boleyn – long thought of as the inspiration for Greensleeves) created a wonderful spectacle in which the costumes amplify the performers’ movements while the performers amplify history.
While the ensemble was a glittering treat, there were some performances that raised their heads a little higher, so to speak.
Phoenix Jackson Mendoza’s strong opening song showcased her deep, resounding range, Loren Hunter beautifully-executed (so to speak) the ballad, Heart Of Stone, and Vidya Makan gave a commanding performance to bring the show achingly close to its finale.
However, there was a special something about Kala Gare’s performance and stage presence, that was captivating. Partly it was her singing, partly it was the smattering of witty lines her character had, but she also had an uncanny knack for her expressive eyes to make themselves seen (even from the heavens), as she emoted her brash, “power bi-atch” reactions. This made it all the sadder to think her head was removed!
The set design was bold, functional, and imbued with lighting to dazzle the audience in restrained bursts. Three tiers gave performers a central high point to use for effect, while on either side, it gave the band visibility to the audience and proximity to the action. It was a compact arena, smartly used, and made to appear bigger than it was through the multiple, towering threads of lights that had been placed wherever there was framework.
SIX The Musical is a rollicking, modern, and memorable production, that will have you reaching for the soundtrack as you ponder buying tickets to see it again.
SIX The Musical, May 21 – June 12, 2022, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide. Photo: Matt Turner.