Cotton

The Musical” at Nederlander Theatre

Six women in costume on stage singing.Six women in costume on stage singing.

Broadway in Chicago’s North American Tour with the Boleyn Company of “Six.” /Photo: Joan Marcus

“Six” is a show that really wants you to like it. And I really wanted to like it too. We met somewhere in the middle. Watching “Six” is like eating cotton candy at the carnival—it was fun and fluffy and colorful, but there wasn’t much nutritional value, and by the end my teeth felt sticky.

This isn’t so much a play as a ninety-minute, no-intermission pop concert that offers a modern retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII. It’s a singing competition, with each queen getting her own song to determine who suffered the most from the rotund Tudor monarch. Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the show debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017 and had a smash North American premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2019, returning to CIBC in 2022. It has been a hit around the world, including Broadway and the West End.

The opening-night audience was certainly eager for the show’s Chicago return—the Nederlander was packed, with drag queens in top-to-toe beads and satins, excited little girls in sparkly dresses and crowns, and teenagers posing for pouty-lipped photos on the sidewalk. Crowd-watching was one of the best parts of the evening.

The play opens with a swirl of dry-ice mist, pumped-up dance music (including a sample of “Greensleeves”), and extremely bright flashing lights. Backed by a fine all-female rock band, our six queens come out in shiny, Renaissance-meets-space-age costumes in different colors. There’s yellow for Catherine of Aragon, green for Anne Boleyn (her metallic skirt looked like Marvin the Martian’s from the Bugs Bunny cartoons), pink for teenage Katherine Howard, etc.

They sing together about being “Ex-Wives,” and then launch into solos. Each has her own “queenspiration” for music style—i.e., Catherine of Aragon has Beyoncé and Shakira, Anne Boleyn has Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne, and Howard has Ariana Grande and Britney Spears.

The performances were mostly good, but the material varied. The strongest songs were “Haus of Holbein,” “Get Down” and “All You Wanna Do.” “Haus” refers to German-Swiss painter Hans Holbein, who did a flattering portrait of Anna of Cleves that inspired Henry to briefly marry her. A tribute to German electronic music, the song is a satire on women’s impossible beauty standards. Everyone’s wearing giant sunglasses. It was reminiscent of Mike Myers’ “Sprockets” bit on Saturday Night Live and very funny.

This was followed by Anna of Cleves’ “Get Down,” performed by the most charismatic performer, Danielle Mendoza. It’s a Rihanna/Nicki Minaj-style “I don’t give a damn” song, with Anna celebrating her good fortune at being rejected—she gets a castle of her own and doesn’t have to be with Henry. Mendoza brought tremendous power to the role and had the crowd hooked—one audience member even stood up to dance.

Six women on stage singing with purple lights from above.Six women on stage singing with purple lights from above.

Broadway in Chicago’s North American Tour Boleyn Company of “Six.” /Photo: Joan Marcus

The song that’s still playing in my head is Howard’s “All You Wanna Do,” which tells of her affairs. More than one encounter sounded like rape, so despite the catchy pop package, the song shows that Howard’s story is a sad one. Taylor Sage Evans, filling in for an ailing Alizé Cruz, got screechy on the high notes, but she’s a good dancer and brought humor and pathos to the role.

Other songs were less successful. Kelly Denice Taylor as Jane Seymour has a gorgeous voice, but her Adele-style song, “Heart of Stone,” was a bland headscratcher. Why would she brag about having a heart of stone?

Anne Boleyn’s “Don’t Lose Ur Head” is catchy but has too much cutesy slang—going “viral” and “LOL” and the Church of England was “totes God’s will.” My teenage daughter, who has been listening to the soundtrack in the car, liked the show overall but agreed that Boleyn’s song is aging like milk. Cassie Silva is a great dancer and comic actor, but this song and the squeaky, bubblegum singing style got annoying. Boleyn was a wily, sophisticated woman beheaded in her thirties—the song doesn’t suit her.

Better was Catherine of Aragon’s song “No Way,” sung with crackling power by Kristina Leopold, with some fitting Spanish influence in the dancing. Adriana Scalice as Catherine Parr has one of the show’s best voices, and her solo, “I Don’t Need Your Love” is a decent anthem about a woman making her own way.

The show ends with the queens realizing they really don’t have to compete and acknowledging their independence and girl power. It felt like the end of an after-school special—we all learned something tonight. Herstory—not history, right? Sure, why not. I’m glad this show is bringing young people into the theaters. And I hope they come back to see something better.

“Six: The Musical” is through July 14 at James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph. Showtimes are Tuesday-Thursday at 7pm (with Wednesday matinees at 1pm), Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 1pm  (with an additional performance on Sunday, July 7 at 6:30pm). There will be no performance on Thursday, July 4. Tickets are $39-$134, available at broadwayinchicago.com or by calling at (312)977-1710.




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