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IN A.R.T.’s production of ‘SIX,’ scorned wives of Henry VIII have their say, and then some

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
IN A.R.T.’s production of ‘SIX,’ scorned wives of Henry VIII have their say, and then some
Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele, at center) performs “I Don’t Need Your Love.” PHOTO: LIZ LAUREN

If it’s been a while since your last European history lesson, head to the American Repertory Theater for a refresher on Henry VIII and his six wives. But these queens might look (and sound) a little different than you remember. “SIX” smashed onto the Cambridge stage last week in a powerful reclamation of history, or should we say herstory.

Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack, at center) performs “Get Down.” PHOTO: LIZ LAUREN

Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack, at center) performs “Get Down.” PHOTO: LIZ LAUREN

Created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the 75-minute production features the six wives of Henry VIII as a pop girl band, and they’ve got a story to tell. As each queen sings her story and reclaims her personhood, it becomes clear just how badly history wronged these ladies. Each wife is modeled after a contemporary songstress in both style and aesthetic. Anna of Cleves, played to perfection in this production by Brittney Mack, channels Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Catherine of Aragon, played by Adrianna Hicks, brings Beyonce and Shakira to the mix.

The score perfectly blends the beats of contemporary music with raw history and poignant cultural analysis. Featuring lines like “Okay ladies, let’s get in reformation,” and “Everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will,” it’s every high school teacher’s dream lesson: fun, relatable and perspective changing. “SIX” may have similar contemporary twists and rap verses to “Hamilton” but it features a population that got cheated in Lin Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece: the ladies.

Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks, at center) performs “No Way.” PHOTO: LIZ LAUREN

Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks, at center) performs “No Way.” PHOTO: LIZ LAUREN

In an interview with A.R.T. Marlow and Moss say they created the show because they knew so many talented female performers with limited opportunities. “One component was about writing great parts for women,” says Moss. “Another was to highlight the parallels we saw between the Queens’ experiences and those of women today.”

This is doubly impactful because the majority of the cast is women of color, another group notoriously excluded from and abused by history. Not only are audiences seeing a new perspective on women who are only known for their famous marriages, they’re hearing these stories from populations that were excluded from the English historical narrative altogether.

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The show launched at Edinburg Fringe and then toured the U.K., premiering in London’s West End and hopping the pond to enjoy a successful run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. After a visit to the Sydney Opera House this coming January, the next stop for the show is the glittery lights of Broadway where it will debut in February 2020.

Though additional performances were recently added to the A.R.T. run, New England theater lovers are as desperate for an audience with the Queens as Henry VIII was to summon the executioner. If you want to participate in the ultimate theatrical ex shaming, it’s best to act fast. 

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