4 Stars out of 4
If you head to Navy Pier for Chicago Shakespeare’s latest show SIX, about Henry VIII’s wives, don’t be expecting a musical version of a BBC biography, for this show is something completely fresh: a pop concert mash up of historical queen avatars and contemporary cultural icons who the show’s creators call Queenspiriations. Everything from Catherine of Aragon (the dynamic Adrianna Hicks) as a Beyonce/Shakira reference, to Catherine Parr (the intelligent Anna Uzele) channeling Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé will delight and inspire you, taking HisStory and making it HerStory. For those of us Anglophiles who cannot get enough of the world changing soap opera that was the Tudors, this show is wondrous. It’s also the kind of evening you can keep coming back to since it’s easy to become a super fan of a Queen, and SIX has many layers.
Writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss were students at Cambridge looking to create some powerful female roles for undercast talented women, so this show was born with an agenda. Even the four piece backup band, The Ladies In Waiting, is female identifying, and they rock this gig under the baton of Julia Schade. Choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille makes sure this production moves, shakes and snaps and each Queen has a signature style then folds into a tight ensemble to back up the soloist. Lucy Moss teamed up with director Jamie Armitage to bring this West End hit to US audiences and half the cast has been pulled from Broadway, which shows: these women are powerhouses. The British team has chosen for these completely meta Queens to have American accents and they are complex and smart characters with killer pipes. The lyrics they sing are full of puns and wit and double entendre. The “plot” of the evening is that the Ex Wives are competing for Number One Worst Treated Wife. As each sings out her story, it gets a bit Mean Girls before they come together as a sisterhood and completely reimagine what their biographies could have been.
Years ago I would do storytelling workshops with foster families who were caring for kids removed from their families because of abuse and neglect. We would use the vehicle of storytelling to rewrite, rescript and find meaning in our experiences. Everyone needs to be the star of their own story. Like life, these Six did not get happy endings but the power of telling the tale can heal. Seeing Katherine Howard (the silver voiced Samantha Pauly) as an abused woman and not a foolish Lolita was a shift in perspective in our #metoo era.
The show doesn’t go all heavy on you, though—this is after all a pop concert complete with laser lights, smoke machine, and a neon lights back wall that spells it all out for you. This is a stomp your feet, jump up and dance fun time. We even get our phones out to record the encore! And did I mention the runway ready fashions the Queens are wearing? Gabriella Slade’s pop icon/ren faire high fashion creations are what everyone wants to be wearing: the teen in my house has been googling where to get the glittery boots for two days.
SIX is a brilliant work, flawlessly combining history, feminist commentary, sheer entertainment value, hot dancing and quick witted lyrics into an evening you will be thinking about the next day. What Miranda has done for American history, Marlow and Moss are doing for British history.
SIX is running at the Yard at Chicago Shakespeareat Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue , Chicago, now through June 30, 2019 with select performances having access services including open captioning and audio description. For tickets and information go to www.ChicagoShakes.com or follow the Queens’ ascent at #SIXChicago or @chicagoshakes or call 312-596-5600. Or go to https://www.theatreinchicago.com/six/10234/