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Broadway-bound 'Six' brings Henry VIII's wives back from the dead to smash the patriarchy

'Six'

'Six' Liz Lauren

For a show about the value of additive expression, Six may be most inspired in what it omits. There's no conventional plot and the set is straightforward, even by the standards of the pop concerts that inspired the piece. There's essentially one act that runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Oh, and... there are no men.

Six
Six

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
$35

The Ordway is justifiably excited to be hosting Six, a musical riding a wave of buzz that's about to deposit it right on Broadway with the same cast now onstage in St. Paul. That makes it the first show in the Ordway's 34 years to go directly from Rice Park to the Great White Way, and for Tuesday's opening night, the venue rolled out a royal carpet with blazing searchlights, Tudor trivia, and at least as many photo spots as Henry VIII had wives.

That number, in case you didn't know, is six. The conceit of Six is that Henry's several spouses convene in a glamorous afterlife to settle, in song, the debate over which of them was most distinguished. In this particular instance, they parry over who was most distinguished by the poor treatment she received from the infamous monarch.

And that's pretty much it. There's an intro, a concluding number in which the wives find common ground, one techno transition, and solo spotlights ranging from a steadfast ballad delivered by Jane Seymour (on Tuesday night’s show, Mallory Maedke) to the peppy pique of misused fifth wife Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly). The show's original incarnation was an Edinburgh Fringe show just two years ago, and somehow Six has managed to blow up to Broadway scale without losing the kind of scrappy energy that shines in a DIY context.

The show wouldn't have risen to this level, though, without a lot more than an empowering premise and some cheesy puns (though it certainly has those). Co-writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss imagined each of the wives in the style of an iconic diva, and their songs play on those tropes while encapsulating the women's stories and also being so catchy that the streaming soundtrack is a hit in its own right.

On Friday, teens who were sharing Snapchat selfies just before the show put their phones down and sang every word along with historical personages like Anne of Cleves (on Tuesday, Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert)—whose "queenspirations," per the program, were Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. The all-women onstage band might merit the approval of even Beyoncé, a model for Henry's proud first wife Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks).

Hamilton is an obvious touchstone for Six, which admits to being revisionist but does so in the service of telling a larger truth: that defining women by their relationships to men is reductive, patriarchal bullshit. In a swift staging directed by Moss with Jamie Armitage, Six doesn't wait around to be congratulated for its righteousness, its wit, or even its vocal acrobatics. These wives are ready to rule, and they know their loyal subjects are waiting.

While it's hard to escape the sense that this material must play even better in Britain, the queens definitely know where they are—very specifically so. Henry VIII isn't the only big name that gets shoved offstage in this staging, which features constant shout-outs to St. Paul and not a single solitary mention of Minneapolis. To quote the real-life Anne Boleyn, "Let them grumble; that is how it's going to be."