Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for how you lived than how you died? That’s the guiding spirit behind “Six,” coming to the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) Aug. 21–Sept. 29. The fast-paced musical reimagines the six queens of England’s King Henry VIII as girl-power pop stars, taking up microphones to sing about the lives they led before they were reduced to the simple mnemonic (recited during the show) “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”
Created by Cambridge University students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the strikingly modern take on 16th-century English history aims to reveal the fighting spirit behind Queens Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Appropriately, say the playwrights, the 75-minute musical, which at the A.R.T. will feature choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, orchestration by Tim Curran, music direction by Roberta Duchak, and stage direction by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, began, in part, as a vehicle for empowerment. The production is bound for Broadway after its limited Cambridge run.
The original impetus for “Six” was to create something specifically for the annual Edinburgh festival. (The show then went on to London’s West End, where it would be nominated for five Olivier Awards, and this summer opened in Chicago as well.) To create a production that would stand out, said Marlow, the friends — who were then studying for final exams — decided they should focus on a famous subject (Shakespeare’s women were considered), popular music, and something that played with the form of the musical. Beyond that, though, “We really cared about representation,” said Marlow. “Something that had an entirely or majority female and nonbinary cast, because we have so many friends who are talented and funny and brilliant.”