Beat JENeration #034: Six: The Musical is making it possible for me to survive this week

Remember all the feels the Hamilton soundtrack gave you in the first year — before it blew up into something so much bigger than itself that we all forgot how truly revolutionary it actually was? Those were good times for us history-loving musical theatre nerds and there was hope that our time had come.

Broadway, however, decided to focus on high school angst and misery. Dear Evan Hansen, Be More Chill, Jagged Little Pill, Mean Girls — the Apple Music play counts do not lie, I enthusiastically love them all, but it wasn’t the trend I’d wanted. Yes, I know a well-researched and written musical masterpiece takes time, but couldn’t they at least throw us a revival of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson? 

Thankfully, there’s a British invasion setting things right. Six: The Musical has brought all the feels of Hamilton on first 100 listens AND is as equally woke. Actually, it makes Hamilton feel almost dated for they way the Schuyler sisters are pitted against one another over some arrogant, wordy, cheating dude with a ponytail.

Henry VIII did all his wives wrong, and so they formed a girl group to publicly compare notes. Six is powered by a diverse cast boldly declaring their very modern #MeToo sentiments for the whole show. 

In pre-Gilead times like these, I need some chick empowerment. (And that’s all I can say on the subject right now, lest I cry and turn this into a darker, very different column). 

To say that I have been obsessed with Six: The Musical is an understatement. Show tunes and smart writing are a weakness by themselves, but history — especially if it’s herstory — always sucks me deep into a passionate pit of preoccupation. Plus I’m a giant Anglophile geek who feeds on a girl-driven power pop ballads full of hooks full of anger with a catchy sing-a-long dance-y beat. It’s like someone wrote this musical just for me. 

Of course, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss didn’t write it for me personally. Though let’s first take it in that Toby and Lucy are only 24 years old — and way too young and smart to even have me on their radar. They were at Cambridge and put this together for a laugh, to take to the Edinburgh Fringe. Toby came up with the idea in a poetry tutorial where they were comparing a William Blake poem with a modern art piece. They are just everything I wish I could have been.

Six has been extended at ARTS Theatre in London until January 2020 and is in the middle of its North American premiere at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare in Chicago until June 30.  Then it’s scheduled to then move to the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard at the end of August.

But if you can’t get yourself to see it, at least you can listen to it…over an over again.

Track 1: Ex-Wives

The opener. Let’s introduce you to the wives.

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.

Hello, can we take a mo’ to contemplate how sexist history has been in regard to these Queens!

Yes, the Church of England was created because Henry was an entitled narcissistic ass whose love life played a part in getting the excommunication ball rolling, but did we all really need to learn some cutesy rhyme to know who all of his six wives were?

Did we need to even passively study that who he married? What was the point? It’s not like we ever learned much more about them.

Honestly, it gets treated as nothing more than a bit of ye olde gossip to keep the class interested because not one high school teacher actually taught us anything about these women’s actual lives. It’s a shame as it would have been a great introduction to feminism. But, no, I had to learn about them as actual people through The Tudors – and while I loved that show, we short shrift these ladies’ hardships with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing Henry. It would be a helluva lot easier to trophy wife up with someone who looked like him.

The song itself is so Spice Girls, but with intelligent double entendre lyrics like:

“Tonight we gonna do ourselves justice / Cause we’re taking you to court / Every Tudor Rose has its thorns / And you’re gonna hear ‘em live in consort”.

But the heavy repetitive synth sounds a lot more like a dance track you’d hear on vacation in some backwater European disco stuck in the mid-90’s — so it has its place, but that place is not on repeat.

Once a day is enough.

Track 2: No Way

Renée Lamb as Catherine of Aragon slays this Beyonce sounding bop.

The timing for this could not be better as The Spanish Princess started airing on Starz. (Three episodes in and I, predictably, love it). Queen Isabella is a badass setting up that Catherine shall follow suit! Say what you want about the facts in Philippa Gregory’s historical romances, she is a master at crafting strong female characters you have intense feelings about (love or hate).

If I had to pick a favorite of Henry’s Exes, it would be Catherine. She got royally dumped, but didn’t go down quietly. This song as fierce as she is with every belt and drum beat.

Track 3: Don’t Lose Ur Head

Anne of Boleyn, never been a fan (probably because as I just declared, I’m #TeamCatherine. But Christina Modestou makes you want to like Anne in this catchy early Lily Allen-esque song. She’s sassy and out for fun, dammit — of course, Henry would fall for her.

“Don’t Lose UR Head” makes out Anne to be passive about politics, though history says otherwise. We know her family used her as a pawn for their own clout, but she was not dumb. She engineered the crap out of court affairs. Known as a charming hottie, she had a rep for “sharp tongue and a terrible temper” — so the whole tone of the song fits.

The more I listen to this song the more I love it and the more I feel bad for Anne who was kind of scheme-y skeeze, but ultimately a victim of her time and the arrogant alpha males who didn’t know what to do with her when she didn’t tow the line.

Track 4: Heart of Stone

Natalie Paris gets to sing a very Adele power ballad as Jane Seymour.

Jane’s usually portrayed as pretty docile and dull — but don’t forget she was hooking up with Henry as her predecessor was being pushed to the chopping block. Six’s take on Jane shows she was savvy enough to understand that being the perfect boring wife is what would keep her safe from Henry’s mercurial moods.

Being taken out after giving Henry the damn son he wanted is such a mic drop though, right?

Track 5: Haus of Holbein

This feminist anthem about women’s beauty standards of the era is set to German techno beat. 

Obviously this is in reference to Henry’s Hans Holbein commissioned portrait of Anne of Cleves — the one that was so flattering, she turned out disappointing IRL — and the other royal bachelorettes who were being painted for this early version of Tinder, but it’s so much more. We get German puns and an ingredients list for the trendy cosmetics of the time.

This is a great track to play when you’re on the treadmill, ladies.

Track 6: Get Down

Anne of motherfucking Cleves!  This is the best song.  She’s a baller.

She’s not going to win the competition with her take on things, but dammit she wins life.

Genesis Lynea is obvi channelling Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, but I also get some strong Missy Elliot vibes. This is the kind of uplifting power song you can strut down the street to —- and I often do.

The gist of the song is that Anne of Cleves is chillin in her castle following her divorce. Sippin on her goblet, rolling in riches and privilege thanks to her divorce settlement, Anne has no more fucks to give. Henry didn’t think she looked like her “profile picture?” She’s hanging that masterpiece in throne room so everyone can see he’s full of shit!

Flex, Anne, flex!

Track 7: All You Wanna Do

Aimie Atkinson singing for Catherine Howard gives us the saddest of the songs hidden within a very Britney Spears/Ariana Grande-ish club track. What starts out as a celebration of her sex appeal swerves for a sharp right turn into how she had been groomed from age of 13 by predatory men. Seeing Catherine Howard as a victim of sexual abuse who is then objectified and used by men over and over again, but still holds out hope that “this time” will be different makes her so relatable. That she is ultimately killed for this puts an even darker spin on this sick pop beat.

My heart breaks for Catherine, but I can’t stop dancing.

Track 8: I Don’t Need Your Love

Izuka Hoyle gives us a torchy Alicia Keyes vibe for Catherine Parr. 

Catherine lost the love of her life because one simply cannot turn down the King and the first part of this song laments that. She was in love with Thomas Seymour and instead had to be a nursemaid/wife to a stinky fat old gouty king. But then the song doesn’t linger on how much it sucked for long. Half way through it devolves into a protest over the way women always seem to be defined by their relationship with men. Catherine supported female education and wrote books and stuff, so she’s going to sing that story, dammit.

I love Catherine for her early feminism, but I’m not really a fan of the song itself.

Track 9: Six

The closing number is probably the weakest of album. But forgiving that, the message is strong. “Six” reimagines what each wife would do if she didn’t marry Henry.  Spoiler: They’d all get into the music scene and end up in girl band even if the didn’t have a famous royal asshole ex in common.

It sounds very Cheetah Girls to me. But you know what, you go girls! If this is the worst, it’s still better than half of what’s currently on Broadway.