Friday, June 14, 2024

REVIEW: Broadway’s Six dazzles in Ottawa with rock-concert punch

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Musical at the National Arts Centre tells the story of the six ill-fated wives of England’s King Henry VIII in a way that makes it entertaining for new audiences.

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Six: The Musical

Broadway Across Canada
Performances until May 26 at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St.)
Tickets & times: Ticketmaster.ca

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The touring production of Six that’s on stage at the National Arts Centre this week is more like a splashy, over-the-top Spice Girls concert than a dramatic rendering of a chapter of history. 

Presented by Broadway Across Canada, this musical sets out to tell the story of the six ill-fated wives of England’s King Henry VIII in a way that makes it entertaining for new audiences, which translates to more glitz and glamour and less of a reliance on dry, boring facts from a century long past.

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All you really need to know are the names and causes of death of each of the King’s ex-wives; from there, the creators let their imaginations run wild. The show was written by the British team of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society to bring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was a big hit in 2017. 

It’s no wonder. Six is unlike most other big-budget musicals in that it lacks an elaborate, scene-changing set. All the action takes place in front of the audience without pausing to shift props or change costumes. No intermission disrupts the flow, either — the show runs over one continuous chunk of 80 minutes. You can’t help but get caught up in the energy and smacked by the volume (it’s loud!). 

In a twist on the reality-show-competition trope, the premise envisions the six women trying to out-perform each other to prove who had it worse with the King. The old English nursery rhyme — divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived — becomes the chorus to the rousing opening number, Ex-Wives (The Queens). 

While the plot and setting are intentionally thin, the execution is outstanding, with a focus on the casting, costumes, choreography and, of course, the music. The cast consists solely of the six stars, with no supporting roles except for the four-woman band, The Ladies in Waiting, on stage behind them. How refreshing to see a stage full of female talent.  

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What’s more, the non-stop format means the six performers — Kristina Leopold, Cassie Silva, Kelly Denice Taylor, Danielle Mendoza, Alizé Cruz and Adriana Scalice — have to be more than simply adequate. There’s no coasting through roles in this show, and each one of the ‘wives’ is definitely a star in her own right, with a distinctive singing voice, dramatic flair, comedic chops and the stamina to handle Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s nimble choreography.

It was especially fun to see how the creators imagined each woman’s personality through the musical flavours. Catherine of Aragon, for example, is inspired by Beyonce, while Anne Boleyn takes cues from a Canadian, Avril Lavigne. Anne of Cleves references Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. The wives and their “Queenspirations” are detailed in the program. 

The costumes, too, are fantastic creations designed by Gabriella Slade, with big shoulders, short skirts, fishnets and lots of studs and sequins adding up to a look that minimizes the Tudor era in favour of an edgy steampunk-on-the-dance-floor vibe. 

At one pivotal point towards the end of the show, one of the Queens questions their motives in trying to outdo each other with the trauma and abuse they endured, leading to the realization that their talent competition is merely perpetuating age-old patriarchal structures. 

A shift in perspective comes with the revelation that each woman has a voice. If they can’t revise history in a way that gives them a happily-after-ever grand finale, at least they can sing and dance as one dynamic supergroup. “One more song?” they ask. The crowd roars its approval: Yes, please! 

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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