'SIX': Henry VIII's wives become pop stars in Broadway hit playing Fort Myers
They’re the aggrieved wives of Henry VIII. And they have a lot to say.
Or rather, sing.
“They’re telling their version of the story,” says actor Storm Lever of the musical "SIX." “They’re taking back the microphone.”
Those six wives — including two the British king divorced and two he had beheaded — sing, dance and tell their stories in two new U.S. tours of “SIX.” The Broadway hit is part pop concert and part setting the record straight.
“I just love what ‘SIX’ stands for, you know?” says actor Cassie Silvia, dance captain for the show and one of four “offstage queens” that performs when the main queens can’t go on. “It’s all about inclusivity and empowerment and reclaiming your power and rewriting your story.”
The “Aragon” tour of “SIX” opens Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in south Fort Myers. Here’s everything you need to know:
A sisterhood of queens
“SIX” promises to tell the story of Henry VIII’s six wives “like you’ve you've never heard before." The show starts with the women arguing over who had it worse with the 16th century British king. But then they realize they have more in common than just an awful husband.
“It isn’t a typical story,” says Lever, who portrays Anne Boleyn. “We start the show saying that it’s going to be a competition to discuss who had the worst life with Henry VIII.”
But soon, they realize they’re more sisters than rivals.
“We eventually reveal that we don’t need to be pitting women against each other,” Lever says. “We can all share the spotlight.
“There’s room for us all. There’s room for us all to tell our stories.”
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“SIX” is a hit
The musical won 23 awards in the 2021-22 Broadway season, including two Tony Awards (Best Costume Design in a Musical and Best Original Score). It was nominated for Best Musical, too, but lost to “A Strange Loop.”
The musical scored largely rave reviews. New York Times critic Jesse Green called it a “a rollicking, reverberant blast from the past” with songs that are a “slick blend of pop grooves, tight lyrics and old-fashioned musical theater craft.”
The Broadway album “SIX: LIVE ON OPENING NIGHT” debuted at No. 1 last year on the Billboard cast-album charts. It racked up 23 million streams in its first six months, according to theater-news website Playbill.
Playwrights Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss came up with the concept for “SIX” and started writing it in 2017, when they were students at Cambridge University. The musical premiered later that year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It moved to London’s West End in 2019 and then Broadway in 2020.
Now there are two U.S. tours of “SIX”: The “Aragon” tour coming to Fort Myers and another one called the “Boleyn” tour. They’re named after Henry VIII wives Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
The look and sound of each queen is modeled after one or more real-life pop stars, including Beyonce, Lizzo, Adelle and Avril Lavigne.
Lavigne and Lily Allen, for example, were the inspirations for Lever's Anne Boleyn character, she says. “My queen is definitely the pop-punk queen.”
On top of those original inspirations, the actors in “SIX” came up with their own personal inspirations for the characters — also known as their “queenspirations.”
Lever chose Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. Like Anne Boleyn, she says, those pop singers have been misunderstood in the past.
“When they first came on the scene, they were depicted as these innocent characters and were celebrated in pop culture,” Lever says. “And when these women changed their sound, changed the game (and) started to utilize the fact that sex sells … pop culture turned on them and they weren’t viewed favorably.”
Now, of course, both are huge pop stars who are both beloved and idolized, Lever says.
The show’s pop-star inspirations help make 16th century history more fun and accessible for audiences, Lever says.
“We’re talking about Tudor history,” she says. “So whether or not you’re familiar with the history or you’re familiar with these women’s stories, here’s this easy ‘in’ to the music.”
What really happened to the six queens?
Henry VIII's six wives didn't have happy lives, that's for sure. Here’s what happened to them in real life, and also the pop-star inspirations for their characters in “SIX”:
Wife No. 1, Catherine of Aragon (played by Khaila Wilcoxon): Marriage annulled (or declared legally invalid) after she couldn’t produce a male heir. The “SIX” character is inspired by Beyonce.
Wife No. 2, Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever): Arrested and beheaded after being accused of incest, adultery and even witchcraft. She also couldn’t produce a male heir. Avril Lavigne inspired the Anne Boleyn Six character.
Wife No. 3, Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg): Married one year. She died in childbirth. Adele inspired the “SIX” character.
Wife No. 4, Anne of Cleves (Olivia Donalson): Married for seven months, then the marriage was annulled and declared unconsummated. Her “SIX” character was inspired by Rihanna and Nicki Minaj.
Wife No. 5, Katherine Howard (Didi Romero): Beheaded after accused of cheating on the king. Her “SIX” character was inspired by Ariana Grande and Britney Spears.
Wife No. 6, Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo): Henry VIII’s final wife — and one who actually outlived him. They were married almost four years before he died in 1547. Her “SIX” character is inspired by Alicia Keys.
That’s the short version of what happened to the wives, but Lever says “SIX” fleshes out their “her-story” and turns them into well-rounded human beings.
“In our musical, all the queens, I love that they exist in multitudes,” she says. “They’re not these two-dimensional characters.”
The costumes are “rad,” but uncomfortable
Tony Award-winning designer Gabriella Slade created the musical’s colorful, memorable costumes, blending both Tudor and modern pop influences.
To make the queens easier to remember, each one gets her own color. Catherine Howard wears pink, for example. And Anne Boleyn wears green.
“Those costumes, they’re just so iconic and they’re SO cool,” Silva says. “Just the construction of them is really rad.”
One thing they’re not, though, is comfortable.
“I’ll be honest, they’re super cumbersome,” Silva says. “They’re made of plastic.”
But Silva’s not complaining. The costumes are cool, she says, and they help her and the other actors get into character.
“When you put that costume on, you truly transform,” she says. “They’re so specific to that queen and that vibe. …
“They really are so transformative, and they’re so fun to be in. So it’s worth it, you know? You’re like, ‘I can’t move. I’m stuck in a box. But isn’t this so cool?’”
How is Henry VIII portrayed?
Um, not great.
“Sadly, like a lot of girls who get together and talk about their ex, he doesn’t come out looking too well,” Lever says and laughs.
That’s a refreshing change of pace, she says, because early histories favored Henry VIII over his wives. Now the wives get to tell their version of the story.
More about “SIX” in Fort Myers
The musical runs for about 80 minutes with no intermission.
The show opens Wednesday, Feb. 1, and continues through Sunday, Feb. 5. Tickets are $71-$156 (plus applicable taxes and fees, prices subject to change).
For more information, call 481-4849 or visit bbmannpah.com.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1). You can also call at 239-335-0368.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: 'SIX': Everything you need to know about the hit Broadway musical