6 things to know about 'Six' the musical before it comes to Des Moines Civic Center
Sydney Parra has a plan when she arrives in Des Moines.
First, she's going to play Catherine Parr at the Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., in one of the most popular musicals of the past five years.
Then, she's going to Up-Down, in her words, "the best bar-cade I’ve ever been to in my life," for her birthday to take advantage of the 40 arcade tokens customers get on their birthday.
“I’ve been hyping up Des Moines to everyone," said Parra, who previously came through Des Moines with a show last year. “I’m like, 'Guys, you don’t know, you don’t think it’s gonna be great, but it’s great!'"
Parra arrives in Des Moines with the rest of American Tour Boleyn Co. of "Six the Musical" — a pop musical with compositions inspired by the likes of Ariana Grande and Beyoncé to create a show in which the six ex-wives of the infamous English King Henry VIII share their side of the marriage. The musical has 16 local performances planned from Feb. 7 through Feb. 19.
As you prepare to see this "histo-remix" — as told by Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr — here are six things to know about the show.
Parra's previous Des Moines stop:Tony-winning musical 'Hadestown' has Iowa connections, opens at the Des Moines Civic Center
Why did Henry VIII have so many ex-wives?
For those not on the up-and-up on their British royals, King Henry VIII ruled over England for most of the first half of the 16th century occupying a significant portion of the Tudor dynasty, which also included his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the final Tudor monarch.
Henry VIII is known for having six wives over the course of nearly four decades on the throne. He also kicked off the English Reformation, which resulted in England separating from the Roman Catholic Church, but even that occurred in large part so that Henry VIII could annul his first marriage.
The key reason for this string of divorces and deaths is that Henry VIII was only able to produce a single male heir through any of the couplings. Seymour died shortly after the birth. All of Henry VIII's other marriages produced either female heirs or no children at all.
Parra plays the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, the survivor who saw him to the end of his life.
“There are very few (depictions of Parr) because she is the last one," said Parra. "In the historical view of the story, she is the least eventful because she happened to survive Henry VIII's reign.
How 'Six' plays like a pop concert
Though centuries-old history informs "Six," going to the show might feel more like attending a modern pop concert.
Before taking the stage as Catherine Parr, Parra was a member of the touring production of "Hadestown," which is a more traditionally formatted piece of musical theater than "Six." This show only has a six-person cast, each of whom performs a solo — with the others singing back-up — in an attempt to convince the audience that they have singularly suffered the most at the hands of their shared ex.
This means that the performers are often singing directly to the audience, mugging for applause and performing in a style closer to a concert than a stage show.
“'Six the Musical' feels like a soul cycle class," said Parra. "You leave the stage maybe twice for 30 seconds each."
More:20 notable concerts and shows from 'The Lion King' to Shania Twain to see in central Iowa
What happened to all the wives?
There's a simple way to recall what happened to the wives. Just remember: "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived."
"Six" introduces the audience to this rhyme at the top of the show and takes you through the story of each of the ex-wives in the order of their marriage and details the fate of each of these queens. Catherine of Aragon: divorced. Anne Boleyn: beheaded. Jane Seymour: died. Anne of Cleves: divorced. Catherine Howard: beheaded. Catherine Parr: survived.
More:Meet the 5 Iowans who will share their love stories at the Des Moines Storytellers Project
Each of the wives is based on different pop stars
“The writers, Toby (Marlow) and Lucy (Moss) have said that Catherine Parr is an Alicia Keys to them and I grew up with her, and I think her voice is fantastic," Parra said.
Parra says she's had a decent bit of freedom to bring her own flair to her character and pointed to JoJo and Selena Quintanilla as performers who influenced her personal take on the Catherine Parr.
This goes for the other exes as well, like Catherine of Aragon who was reportedly inspired by Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, or Anne Boleyn being influenced by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Rihanna.
"I was really able to infuse (Parr) with my own interpretation as much as I possibly could," Parra said. "(The creators of the show) say that Catherine Parr is a dramaturgical gift. Her story was so open-ended it gave them the freedom to write whatever they wanted.”
More:Fall Out Boy sends fans on scavenger hunt to Iowa with a clue, 'If you build it, they will come'
'Six' was created by two British college students
The musical was created on the other side of the pond by former Cambridge University students, Marlow and Moss, who put the show on as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017.
After that, "Six" rapidly began an ascent that was interrupted, but not halted, by COVID-19 shortly after Broadway previews began in February 2020. When Broadway reopened in 2021, "Six" was the first new musical to perform since shows shut down.
When Broadway shut down during COVID-19, Moss directed the streamed performance of "Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical" the meme that became reality. The Guardian reported last year that both Marlow and Moss are in the process of making a new musical titled "Why Am I So Single?" as well as an animated movie.
More:Hoyt Sherman Place at 100: How programming has blossomed from blank marquee to 100 events
What's the message of 'Six'?
Though half of the characters die within the story, the musical is one with an uplifting message for millions of fans and first-time viewers, according to Parra.
“(The fans) really carry the message of the show in real life. They’re so good at not comparing us and they really take the message to heart," she said, noting a large fan base of teen girls.
“We live in a society that conditions women to think that there is not enough space for us to all succeed at once," Parra continued. "I hope they see this show and they see that the world is wide enough for all of us to succeed and that we need to lift each other
Tickets, ranging from $40 to $150, and more information about performances can be found at desmoinesperformingarts.org.
Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-600-2124, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Everything to know about the pop musical 'Six' before it comes to Des Moines