Stunning 'Six' Pairs Vocal Perfection With Tudor History and Girl Power
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, July 5, 2023
Dismantling the patriarchy seems an easy task in the able hands (and belts!) of the queens behind the touring cast of Six, currently playing at Broadway San Diego’s Civic Theatre Downtown through July 9.
Winning 23 awards in the 2021/2022 Broadway season including the Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical is a lot of hype to live up to, but it became quickly apparent that the cast (under the co-direction of writer Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage) was up to the challenge.
The production, unique in that rather than taking a storytelling approach, it flips the historical script on its head in a concert setting, pairs Tudor history with spirit to rival the Spice Girls and riffs inspired by modern rock divas. Rather than seeing divorce and beheading at the whim of a monarch, we hear about the experiences of the six wives of Henry VIII from their own perspectives; it’s a girl power inspired twist.
The cast features Khaila Wilcoxon, Storm Lever, Natalie Paris, Olivia Donalson, Courtney Mack, and Gabriela Carrillo (I saw Kelsee Kimmel step in as sixth wife Catherine Parr), and is accompanied by a four-piece female band that is outstanding and tight as they play their way through the evening. And, as the show progresses, everyone gets her moment to shine.
There’s Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon) singing and slaying the upbeat Beyonce-inspired “No Way,” which highlights her refusal to accept the annulment of her marriage followed by influencer Boleyn (Storm Lever) with the delightfully boppy and Avril-esque “Don’t Lose Ur Head” (spoiler alert: she did). Next up is Seymour (Natalie Paris) and her power ballad “Heart of Stone,” inspired by Adele. This song, though one of the only slower pieces, is beyond epic and worth a listen; the actress in the role on the tour is also the voice appearing in the studio album.
Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) is the next wife; her story is told through the bumping “Haus of Holbein” and the Nicki Minaj-inspired “Get Down,” and she earns well deserved huge cheers for her confidence, spirit, and booming, big hip-hop vocals. These are then immediately contrasted with Courtney Mack's application of pout and sex appeal to the Katherine Howard's sassy number “All You Wanna Do,” listed in the program as being inspired by Ariana Grande and Britney Spears. Catherine Parr’s song, “I Don’t Need Your Love,” was performed during the show I witnessed by alternate Kelsee Kimmel with beautiful depth and richness a la Alicia Keys.
In all honesty, each queen is flawless in her performance from top to bottom of the production. The way that they embody the haughtiness, flirtiness, and wholesomeness of their various characters without period dialogue is really lovely to watch and their physical energy and choreography are entertaining and effective (Carrie-Anne Ingrouille).
As someone new to this score, I was especially impressed with Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ writing work on this show - the different timbres of voices, the close harmonies… it was a welcome reminder of what well-executed theatre can sound like. Kudos to sound designer Paul Gatehouse, music director Valerie Maze, and the sound team at the Civic - in a space where amplification can often be an issue, the sound (handheld mics, onstage band and all) was perfect. I also loved the queens’ costumes (Tony Award winner Gabriella Slade) and the lighting design (Tony nominee Tim Deiling) which, combined with Emma Bailey’s unique scenic design, lent an edgy rock feel to a thoroughly entertaining evening out.
Six wives, six powerhouse singers, and six…teen shows in San Diego? The Six tour is not to be missed; catch it before July 9.