Theater Review: SIX (The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 26, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Singing well is the best revenge, especially if you married the spouse from hell. So runs the cunning concept behind Six. This raucous pop concert joyously restores to very loud life the six ex-wives of Henry VIII. The rampaging result, recalling the hip-hop irreverence of the Q Brothers’Othello: The Remix and Christmas Carol, is a very delayed revenge and reclamation. It is retrospective feminism in pursuit of an overdue sisterly (and wifely) solidarity against the greatest sexist pig of the sixteenth century.

sextet of once and future queens finally get the last note.

This fiendishly right concoction by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage, is an unashamedly anachronistic, 80-minute romp with a a literal “score to settle”; it now enjoys a North American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

You can recall these leading ladies by the mnemonic rhyme, “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.” Invoking the sassy spirit of girl power in “He Had It Coming,” Chicago’s salute to the “six merry murderesses of Cook County jail,” this payback rouser fuses dance and song, backed up by a driving combo of six “Ladies in Waiting,” to take control after 500 years. There’s no looking back, no apologies, no buyer’s remorse or survivor guilt. Even better, there’s no king.

What there is recalls the old 1950s quiz show Queen for a Day, where the studio audience got to choose the most miserable housewife with the saddest sob story to wear a crown, carry a scepter and get some fabulous prizes.  Here the ex-wives initially compete in a kind of pity party, with the crowd in The Yard supposedly deciding who suffered most at the hands of a porker Tudor monarch. That inspires some bitchy byplay, as in this exchange: “What hurts more than a broken heart?” — “A severed head.” Disruptive rivalries erupt, triggering the wrong kind of bragging about miscarriages, lost lovers, bad sex, and other collateral damage.

Introduced with the bouncy chorus “Ex-Wives,” their “herstory” couldn’t be more crammed with headlining heartbreak. First off is Adrianna Hicks’ magisterial Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish spitfire whose “No Way [will she go to a convent]” conveys her contempt for both her horrible husband and scheming successor.

That dangerously demure one, Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Elizabeth’s mom, belts out some rather unnecessary advice in “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” a flirty, cheeky survival anthem.

Next up, and suddenly solemn, is sweet Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller as “the only one he truly loved”), whose love ballad “Heart of Stone” proclaims her devotion to a worthless mate.

Returning to choral synchronicity, the Queens’ rollicking “Haus of Holbein” pays tribute to the royal painter whose deceptive portrait of German dowager Anne of Cleves (Brittney Mack) tempted Henry into a mis-marriage. This unrepentant “gold digger” tears into her triumphal “Get Down,” celebrating, not just life after Henry, but, bought off with a castle and more, prosperity in return for an uncontested (and un-beheaded) divorce.

Six clearly shows its sympathy for the devil in the strangely sentimental “All You Wanna Do.” Catherine Howard comes off as a much-justified man-hater who sacrificed true love to lose her head over Henry: Samantha Pauly declaims her adulterous independence on all cylinders.

Finally, with “I Don’t Need Your Love,” the one wife to outlive a serial-killing hubbie, Catherine Parr, gives “love” a whole new meaning. (Well, forty years before, Henry had already debauched the emotion.) Happily, this Catherine finds ultimate adoration in Thomas Seymour.

The choreography, by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, couldn’t be tighter or more fun as Moss and Armitage’s sextet channel the likes of — to name-drop from the program — Beyoncé, Shakira, Lily Allen, Avril Lavigne, Adele, Sia, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys and Emeli Sande.

In their final title number these wonderful wives, far from being divided and conquered, unite in an invincible queendom. Navy Pier’s magnificently un-misogynistic mash-up turns out to be far more than a feminist frolic — it’s a runway miracle in motion and a retroactive refusal of victimhood, today and then also!

photos by Liz Lauren

North American premiere
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare
800 E. Grand Avenue on Navy Pier
ends on June 30, 2019 EXTENDED to August 4, 2019
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit Chicago Shakes

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