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SIX: The Musical Brings The Tudors To The TikTok Era

Short, poppy musical brings a lot of pleasure and a surprising amount of depth.
Didi Romero as Kay Howard

Didi Romero as Kay Howard /Broadway Grand Rapids

“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived”: the centuries-old nursery rhyme capturing the fates of Henry VIII’s wives is memorable, but flattening. It tells us nothing of the women themselves, nothing of what they dreamed, experienced, or accomplished.
SIX: The Musical (onstage through Broadway Grand Rapids January 10th-15th) aims higher. It aims to restore to these women their voices by providing historical context and—wait, don’t stop reading! If I at times make the error of being too dry (no vigorous nodding, thank you), the musical never does. It’s not a history lesson, even if it’s inspired by history and has lessons to teach. It’s a pop song.
Actually, it’s a series of pop songs. The conceit of SIX is that it’s a concert, or maybe a musical competition. What are the women competing for? Sympathy. Each of them (well, five of them) has suffered. Over the course of a brisk eighty minutes, each woman steps into the spotlight and makes her case to posterity.
Take Anne Boleyn (played by Storm Lever in this touring production). She sings “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” a pop-punk banger in the style of Avril Lavigne. With fantastic economy, it paints her as shallow, reckless, and defiant. It traces her journey from the French court to Henry’s bed to the guillotine. It’s tragedy you can dance to.
Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) had better luck. Sure, Henry, smitten by her portrait, blanched when presented with her actuality (“You, you said that I tricked ya/ ‘cause I, I didn’t look like my profile picture”). But she wound up rich, powerful, and subject to the whims of no man. Not a bad deal.
The song that, to my mind, best sums up SIX’s seamlessness is “All You Wanna Do." Didi Romero as Kay Howard sings something that could easily have been a Britney Spears or Ariana Grande hit if it weren’t for the sadness weaved in with the bubblegum sex appeal. Howard’s desirability proves a double-edged sword, cutting her even as she wields it.
I would imagine the sold-out crowd held no shortage of women who related to some degree or another with Howard’s struggles. I would imagine, too, that there were some men, the best of them, who felt for her without feeling guilty. The rest of us thought about our own Kay Howards.
Every song hits its mark. Which is good, as SIX mostly is its songs. Interstitial dialogue pretty much serves to set scenes or lighten the mood, sometimes hilariously. But it’s the music we went for—that and the costumes, which were futuristic and ancient at once (like Tudor cosplay by Daleks) and the choreography, which was as caffeinated and pleasurable as the music itself.
The show cheerfully, and consciously, abandons historical fealty when it doesn’t serve its purpose, not least by ending on a positive note. It’s a fantasy, a girl power anthem, and a call to action. Leave the slavish accuracy to PBS, SIX says, and dress cute: we’re going dancing.

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