hat a new musical has managed to grow its fanbase despite having been out of theatres for over half a year is quite something. But Six, a show about the wives of Henry VIII, has tapped into the social media world in a big way, taking over TikTok with such force that many of the teens who lip-sync the songs don’t even know they’re from a musical. Who could have predicted that 2020 would be such a big year for Anne Boleyn?
Considering its viral appeal, Six is a wonderfully niche concept: the six Tudor queens, miraculously alive again and now global superstars of pop, get together to decide which of them is the real star (Henry’s out of the running long before they get going, soz babes). Each gets a song to make her case for who had the worst deal out of being married to the guy, giving you a more thorough history lesson in 90 minutes than anything on the school curriculum.
The speed of Six’s trajectory to stardom has been unlike any other new British musical in recent years. From beginnings at Edinburgh Fringe with a student cast to a sold out West End residency, international productions and cruise-ship shows, it’s been non-stop glitter cannons since 2017. Until Covid pressed pause on everything. Six was just about to have its opening on Broadway, with a vamped up production and legions of fans who had been eagerly awaiting its arrival. The announcement that all of New York’s theatres would shut came out of nowhere for creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.
“It really went from zero to 60,” says Moss. “There were three days leading up the closure: one day people were going ‘Oooh elbows, no hands ha ha ha’ but walking around busy theatres, the next an usher has coronavirus who works on Six, and the next we’re gonna have to close.”
“We were like, ‘What? But we’re in PREVIEWS!’” Marlow says. “I remember coming back having had our show closed down and arriving in London and everything was still going, and I was like, what are they doing? There’s a virus! It closed down our show!”
It wasn’t long until the same happened here. “We got told on our day off,” says Alexia McIntosh, who plays Anna of Cleves, “so it’s not even like we got to say goodbye to each other.”
The gang are back together now: Jarneia Richard-Noel, Courtney Bowman, Natalie Paris, Mcintosh, Sophie Isaacs and Danielle Steers play, in order, Catherine of Aragon (Divorced), Anne Boleyn (Beheaded), Jane Seymour (Died), Anna of Cleves (Divorced), Katherine Howard (Beheaded) and Catherine Parr (Survived). Although briefly delayed by the second lockdown, Six will move into the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, where it opens on December 5. “I can’t believe we dethroned Thriller Live,” quips Marlow.
There’s a wobbly feeling of mixed optimism and trepidation as theatres announce show returns under the lingering possibility of more restrictions. The caution is justified — there was the recent second lockdown, while in the summer a series of planned drive-in performances were cancelled suddenly due to safety concerns, leaving both fans and performers bereft. Despite that, it’s impossible to speak to them and not feel their excitement after so long.
“It’s an amazing feeling that, all going well, there are 100 people both onstage and offstage who are now going to be employed for a bunch of time,” says Marlow. That’s quite something from an idea cooked up by two students at Cambridge University (among Marlow’s other suggestions were the Real Housewives of Shakespeare, which I’m now dying to see).
There is no denying that, while the show itself is a uniquely marvelous creation, the fans have brought it to where it is now. As a group — called the Queendom — they want to embody what many of them say is the key message: that no matter who you are, you deserve to be in charge of your own story.