Send to

[Herald Review] 'Six' nods to modern-day divas in 'herstory' of King Henry VIII's wives

March 22, 2023 - 14:33 By Park Ga-young
Jessica Niles (left) performs as Cleves during "Six" (Photo by Pamela Raith)

“Six the Musical” is about the six wives of King Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 until his death in 1547.

Through the creative process of young playwrights Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the six women have been brought to life, finding their voices to tell “herstory” instead of "history," which portrays them as nothing but the unfortunate wives of the king, only to be remembered by the rhyme -- "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived."

The six wives -- Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr -- unfolds their stories through popular music genres such as pop, hip-hop and ballads, inspired by Beyonce, Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys and more, as they take part in a makeshift competition to pick a lead singer. In their songs, each one claims to have suffered the most under the king.

Catherine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII for 24 years before the king sought to nullify the marriage on the pretext of her failure to produce a male heir. But the king's real motivation was to wed Anne Boleyn. Catherine of Aragon sings “No Way” to express her determination not to concede to the court’s decision to end her marriage, in a powerful performance reminiscent of Beyonce.

Anne Boleyn's "Don't Lose Your Head" portrays how she died. Jane Seymour, the third wife, died in childbirth in 1537. She sings a ballad number, "Heart of Stone," to show her affection for Henry.

Henry VIII decided to marry Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, based on her portrait. But on their first encounter, he found her to be unattractive. He went ahead with the wedding so as not to provoke her family, the powerful German Duchy of Cleves, but six months later their marriage was invalidated on the grounds of non-consummation. Anne, in “Six,” shows how she maintained a luxurious life after the marriage ended in the rap and hip-hop number “Get Down.”

Catherine Howard is presumed to have been a teenager in 1540 when she married the 49-year-old Henry VIII. In 1542, she was beheaded on charges of adultery. Her song, “All You Wanna Do,” shows similarities with Britney Spears songs.

Catherine Parr's soulful "I Don't Need Your Love" reminds one of Alicia Keys and ends the competition by encouraging the other wives to assert themselves outside their marriages to Henry VIII.

Actors perform during "Six" (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

The 80 minutes flies by as the stories of the six divas unfolds, leaving one anticipating the upcoming Korean version of the musical -- but not without concerns.

"Six" gives a feel of "Altar Boyz," a musical comedy that ran from 2004 to 2011 as an off-Broadway show. "Altar Boyz" features five members of a Christian boy band with distinct personalities and backgrounds, as "Six" does. Just like "Six," "Altar Boyz" deftly turns a serious topic -- faith -- into satire.

Despite having a simple band on stage, both "Six" and "Altar Boyz" were able to deliver rich and engaging stories, songs and performances that captivated the audience.

When a Korean replica version of "Altar Boyz" was introduced in 2006, though, it seemed lost in translation. Fun wordplay, puns and rhymes were gone, and the religious references and jokes did not resonate with local audiences.

Aware of the trickiness of translation and the importance of cultural context, the production team for the Korean version of "Six" is putting in great effort to make the subject more familiar to Korean audiences while paying close attention to the translation, a representative of the production team told The Korea Herald.

"Six" is the brainchild of Moss and Marlow, who were still in college when the musical was introduced in 2017 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, after which it moved to bigger stages. It debuted in West End in 2019 and on Broadway in 2020. The musical received 11 awards, including for best original score and best costume design in a musical at the 2022 Tony Awards.

The original team will perform at the Coex Artium in eastern Seoul until March 26 before the Korean version of the musical will take its turn, running through June 25.

Korean cast of Six (Clip Service)