The state of Victoria may be named after one famous English queen, but for the next two months, it will be home to another six royal women.
After a record-breaking 15-week run at the Sydney Opera House from December 2021, ‘SIX the Musical’ has delighted audiences in Canberra and Adelaide.
The production’s latest stop on its royal tour is Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.
The brainchild of then-Cambridge University students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, ‘SIX the Musical’ tells the story of King Henry VIII’s six wives from their own perspectives.
Structured as a faux-pop concert, each queen is given the chance to tell her story through song in a bid to prove that she had the worst time with their mutual husband, and therefore claim the right to be the lead singer of the band.
What amasses, however, is a show filled with catchy tunes, comradery, and fierce female empowerment.
Boasting an all-female cast and band – featuring Phoenix Jackson Mendoza as Catherine of Aragon; Kala Gare as Anne Boleyn; Loren Hunter as Jane Seymour; Kiana Daniele as Anne of Cleves; Chelsea Dawson as Katherine Howard; Vidya Makan as Catherine Parr; and the ‘Ladies in Waiting’ musicians Kathryn Stammers, Ann Metry, Debbie Yap, and Claire Healy – the 75-minute musical is a tour-de-force of vibrance.
Theatre Haus was fortunate enough to chat with the cast and gain a sneak peek of the production before it opened to the Melbourne “court” on 23 June.
As Louise Withers, one of the producers of the Australian production, notes, there is a lot of anticipation leading up to each city’s opening show.
“Someone said to me last night, ‘it’s the new cult musical,’” Withers says. “Over 450 million streams of the cast album on Spotify; over three billion views on TikTok. Those numbers seem too large to be really true, but it is.”
The Queens themselves are overwhelmed by the popularity the show has amassed internationally since its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.
Chelsea Dawson says one of the great joys of performing in the show is seeing local audiences become a part of the ‘SIX’ fandom in real-time.
“This show has blown up overseas, but it’s still kind of fresh here in Australia,” Dawson says. “A lot of people don’t understand it until they come to see it.”
Agreeing, Kiana Daniele notes that the passion fans feel about SIX is unlike anything she had experienced in musical theatre before.
“We like to say that the audience is the seventh queen,” Daniele laughs.
The show, the cast promise, can be enjoyed regardless of how well-versed you are in your Tudor history. Loren Hunter stresses the show offers audiences a level playing field.
“Even though it’s this English story, it’s got this universal, global theme,” Hunter says. “The whole spirit of the show has this Aussie larrikin thing about it.”
Much of the show’s popularity can be attributed to the empowering idea of these women, who often are overshadowed by the husband they all shared, rewriting their narratives, and giving more precedence to their individual roles in history.
In allowing each queen the opportunity to tell their own story, ‘SIX’ emphasises that all of them are influential and important in their own right.
As Hunter notes, one of the key messages of ‘SIX the Musical’ is that these women are linked by their circumstances but should not be ranked.
“We are all here, we are all enough, we don’t have to fight each other,” Kala Gare agrees. “There’s room enough for everybody to be shining at the same time.”
‘SIX the Musical’ also explores the lives of historical figures in a refreshingly modern way.
History has become a large focus for musical theatre over the past decade. Shows such as ‘Hamilton’, ‘Come From Away’, and ‘Diana: The Musical’ each consider particular moments from history, yet present them in a uniquely 21st-century manner.
While ‘SIX’ shares this general historical framework, Phoenix Jackson Mendoza stresses that it is its own entity within the scope of musical theatre.
“‘Hamilton’ is genius… [but] it’s its own thing,” Jackson Mendoza explains. “The whole pop concert structure of [our] show is so different.”
“It’s really about the spirit of these women, and asking, ‘what do they have to say in today’s world?’”
This is perhaps where ‘SIX the Musical’ finds its deepest strength – in the marriage (pardon the pun) of these women’s stories to modern storytelling techniques.
While their lives were deeply rooted in the 16th century, the morals that can be taken from the show are quintessentially contemporary.
For Vidya Makan, the modern universality of the show is the driving force of her love for it.
“It’s so important for women to come and see the show, obviously,” Makan says. “But for me, I get really moved when the husbands and the cis men come and love it.”
“And to see little boys in the audience just loving it… I think, ‘wow, to grow up in a world where you engage with this, and you feel seen by this.’ I think that is really powerful too.”
As the cast, band, and creative team settle in for their royal residence in Melbourne, they hope the show will shed some light on these oft-overlooked monarchs, as well as entertain audiences.
Doing so would be considered a “win” in their book.
Gare says, “that’s why the audience is so happy when they leave – they feel that they’ve won too.”
So consider this a royal summons, Melbourne. The queens are in town and they are here to make HERstory.
‘SIX the Musical’ will perform at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre until Sunday, 21 August. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit their website.