Henry VIII's wives rock out in rousing 'SIX' at Chicago Shakespeare

  • Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), left, Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack) and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) rock out in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

    Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller), left, Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks), Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack) and Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) rock out in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

  • Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), center, sings "All You Wanna Do" in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

    Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauly), center, sings "All You Wanna Do" in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

  • Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele), center, performs "I Don't Need Your Love" with the ensemble of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX."

    Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele), center, performs "I Don't Need Your Love" with the ensemble of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX." Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

  • The queens of "SIX" sing the title number of the British rock musical, in its North American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

    The queens of "SIX" sing the title number of the British rock musical, in its North American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 
 
Updated 5/24/2019 4:14 PM

"SIX" -- ★ ★ ★

The premise of the 2017 British musical "SIX" sounds slightly bonkers: The six wives of King Henry VIII belt out songs in a competitive concert about being married to one of history's most notorious husbands.

 

"Is this what 'Hamilton' and 'American Idol' hath wrought?!" you might wonder. But "SIX," now receiving a rousing North American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is a smart and sexy spin on English history that truly offers up something for everyone.

The musical's authors -- amazing alchemists Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss -- have created incessantly catchy and ingeniously crafted pop music gold crammed with historical nuggets about Tudor life and society. The result is unabashedly feminist in its perspective and its makeup, down to its rocking all-female backing band -- called the Ladies in Waiting -- led by conductor/keyboard player Julia Schade.

Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), center, performs "Don't Lose Ur Head" with the ensemble of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX." The British rock musical inspired by the wives of Henry VIII continues through Sunday, June 30.
Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet), center, performs "Don't Lose Ur Head" with the ensemble of Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX." The British rock musical inspired by the wives of Henry VIII continues through Sunday, June 30. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Plus, "SIX" is a fun guessing game, since each historical queen is modeled on a contemporary pop diva.

"SIX" begins with the number "Ex-Wives," in which the Queens exclaim that they're so much more than the rhyme that has reductively explained their fates: "Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived."

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Instead of arguing which wife was the most historically important, they instead plead their cases in song about which was most wronged by Henry VIII.

The musical gives each woman a chance to shine, with the others providing backing vocals in what feels like a revisionist historical riff on the Spice Girls.

As first wife Catherine of Aragon, Adrianna Hicks exudes a swaggering authority in her defiant number "No Way." Then Andrea Macasaet makes for a bubbly Anne Boleyn, who actually sings, "Sorry, not sorry," in her number "Don't Lose Ur Head" about her role in Henry VIII's excommunication and the founding of the Church of England.

Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller) sings "Heart of Stone" in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX," the British rock musical inspired by Henry VIII's six wives.
Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller) sings "Heart of Stone" in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's North American premiere of "SIX," the British rock musical inspired by Henry VIII's six wives. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Evanston native Abby Mueller amazes as Jane Seymour, the wife who produced a legitimate son but died after childbirth. Mueller's soaring vocals (and emotional tears) make her solo "Heart of Stone" a standout.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Brittney Mack is hilarious as the rejected Anna of Cleves, who lives it up as a wealthy divorcee in her number "Get Down," while Samantha Pauly subverts many a sexualized pop princess with Katharine Howard's increasingly disturbing "All You Wanna Do."

As the surviving Catherine Parr, Anna Uzele shows an initial reluctance to join in the competition. Instead of pitting the women against each other, she stresses the importance of sisterhood in her solo "I Don't Need Your Love."

Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), center, sings "Get Down" about her life as a wealthy divorcee in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), center, sings "Get Down" about her life as a wealthy divorcee in "SIX" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Original "SIX" directors Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage keep the show rocking and rolling, while choreographer Carrie-Anne Ingrouille grills the cast with all the hip-hop dance precision you would expect from today's major pop acts. "SIX" dazzles with its glossy production values in designer Gabriella Slade's bevy of bedazzled costumes and Tim Deiling's flashy concert lighting design.

The musical may not have the emotional or character depth of other musicals (particularly "Hamilton"). But as a joyous romp that mixes and melds history with pop culture, "SIX" offers a fascinating, fun feminist romp on six women who will forever stand out in history.

• • •

Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (847) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com

Showtimes: 7:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 and 6 p.m. Sunday (no evening show June 9); through June 30

Tickets: $32-$62

Running time: About 85 minutes with no intermission

Parking: Adjacent garage

Rating: Hinted-at profanity and mild sexuality, but largely for general audiences

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