The performers’ pumping fists and outstretched, Mick Jagger-esque tongues give it away.
“Six,” the electrifying women empowerment show that held its press opening Tuesday at St. Paul’s Ordway Center, owes more to a Beyoncé concert than to the type of musicals that are legion on Broadway, where it is slated to begin performances in February.
Like “Hamilton,” to which it is sometimes likened, “Six” remixes a slice of history with contemporary musical styles and attitude. In this case, the splashy show uses pop, R&B, reggaeton and dance music to tell the stories of the six wives of English monarch Henry VIII, giving the women platform shoes and mics to reclaim their herstory.
In this telling, these queens are not just distant figures attached to a stone-cold pill who did not hesitate to have some of them put to death. They are real, relatable women, even if they appear more like Cardi B, Gwen Stefani and Ariana Grande than your average niece or daughter.
Unlike “Hamilton,” “Six” dispenses with strong dramaturgy and an engagingly theatrical story. The show uses a thin narrative frame that’s delivered with a nod and a wink. The “Ex-Wives” are divas in a singing group backed by an all-female quartet, the Ladies in Waiting. Each queen competes to be queen bae by telling us how her victimization was worse than all the others.
Off the top, those who were beheaded should have a leg up.
Composed with lyrics and book by ex-University of Cambridge students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, this English import is laced with sardonic wit and a lot of attitude. It’s also full of innuendos. When Andrea Macasaet’s Anne Boleyn sings “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” she doesn’t even have to lick her lips to make the double entendres clear.
If “Six” were an album, it would be an EP, with just nine songs. The choreography, by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, also comes from the concert world, with lots of hip movements.
The show, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 before landing on London’s West End, wears its fringe roots proudly. “Six” has no set to speak of, just a platform for the elevated band. There are no costume changes — the queens start and end in Gabriella Slade’s Tudor-inflected get-ups. And the show gets through its romp in 75 minutes.
But it’s all in service of a noble aim, which is taking a complicated, horrible chapter from history and making it fun. It also shows that some things have not changed for women. Really, kudos to the creators and especially to this wailing sextet.
Each of the solos feels like a showstopper, starting with “No Way,” Adrianna Hicks’ arresting channeling of Catherine of Aragon, and on to “Get Down,” by Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert, the understudy who ably stepped into the role of Anna of Cleves.
Things get a little weird with “All You Wanna Do,” Katherine Howard’s number about how she has always attracted the eyes of men, starting with her piano teacher who was 23 when she was 13. Fortunately, Samantha Pauly, who plays Howard, uses her phrasing to indicate that’s not OK. Anna Uzele, who plays Catherine Parr, the last queen, was pitch-perfect on “I Don’t Need Your Love” while understudy Mallory Maedke slayed “Heart of Stone,” Jane Seymour’s power ballad.
The queens also had fun on “Haus of Holbein,” a group number inflected with German pop and framed by spooky lights.
Like a good concert, “Six” has room for spontaneity. On Tuesday, the moment of the evening happened when Pauly’s Katherine Howard began to dither before her number, saying she doesn’t know what to do. “Just sing!” a kid in the audience yelled out, offering good advice for a show that’s all about giving these shiny queens their voices back.