The cancellation of the 74th Tony Awards due to COVID-19 has left many amazing shows at the doors of their Broadway debut. One of them is ‘SIX: The Musical”, my personal favorite for the Best Musical Award; and a musical with a fundamental message.
We hear often that History is told from the winner’s perspective. Although this is true, we often forget that it is also told from a male perspective. This is the case of Henry VIII and his six wives. However, the recent musical ‘SIX’ shifts this narrative.
In the musical, the different wives of Henry VIII have form a rock band
If you have studied any English history you will remember this rhyme: “divorced, beheaded, died: divorced, beheaded, survived”.
It is generally used to help students remember the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives, and their different fates, in the context of England’s conversion to Protestantism – which was motivated by Henry VIII’ s desire to divorce his first wife. However, that is all we remember of each of these women: their marriage.
SIX makes a whole rock concert out of it.
“I’m done ’cause all this time, I’ve been just one word in a stupid rhyme / So I picked up a pen and a microphone / Histories about to get overthrown,” they sing.
In the musical, the different wives of Henry VIII have formed a rock band together and compete about who should be the lead singer. Each of them sings about why they should be the lead, detailing their life and marriage.
In this way, we don’t only learn about the lives of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, who are still quite known today. We witness Catherine’s perspective when Henry announces that he will divorce her to marry another woman, we witness Jane Seymour’s love for Henry despite all of his faults, and also Catherine Parr’s career as a writer and a defender of women’s education after the king’s death. We meet a fun, sassy and carefree Anne Boleyn, a flirty Katherine Howard with a traumatic past, and a powerful Anne of Cleves who doesn’t need a man in her life.
The musical mixes funny comparisons with deep and important topics. It compares Henry VIII’s election of Anne of Cleves as his next wife to dating apps (a perfectly valid one, if you know the story) and sheds light on the abuse that Katherine Howard suffered at the hands of several men in power, leading to her eventual beheading.
History is told from a male perspective. ‘SIX’ changes that.
Moreover, the creators have admitted that each queen embodies the style and music of a contemporary artist. Catherine of Aragon is the Beyoncé of the group, the OG queen. Anne Boleyn has a cheeky, fun, and carefree personality that is reminiscent of Lily Allen or Avril Lavigne. Jane Seymour brings us a heartbreaking ballad that has nothing to envy to Adele. Anne of Cleves’ hip-hop influenced style makes her a new Nicky Minaj or Rihanna, and Katherine Howard could easily be our next Britney Spears or Ariana Grande. Finally, Catherine Parr brings all the queens together with her part-sad, part-powerful song that has the energy of Alicia Keys.
The show has a diverse, all-female cast that manages to give a history lesson in the form of an amazing rock concert. Not only that, but it also leaves the audience with an important reflection: the need to bring back women’s history from oblivion.
At the end of the musical, the wives end up realizing that they had let themselves be defined by their relationship with Henry instead of by who they are. They become all lead singers and join together to rewrite their stories.
Most of the historical women that everyone remembers, such as Anne Boleyn, are known as simply ‘wives of’ and ‘daughters of’. We forget that Catherine of Aragon commissioned Luis Vives’ book The Education of A Christian Woman which became controversial because it defended women’s right to an education. Anne Boleyn promoted England’s conversion to Protestantism. Catherine Parr was a writer, and the first English queen to publish a book under her own name (Prayers or Meditations).
Many women that we only know of because of their relationship to a man did incredible things by themselves. As Catherine Parr sings in ‘SIX’: “I even got a woman to paint my picture / Why can’t I tell that story? / ‘Cause in history / I’m fixed as one of six / And without him / I disappear / We all disappear”.
History is filled with amazing female characters that have simply been ignored. I am glad ‘SIX’ gives us the opportunity to change that, more so if it is in the form of a rock concert.
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