Guilty pleasure meets mighty girl power as international smash hit musical Six finally makes its Melbourne premiere.
The little-show-that-could, Six skyrocketed from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival to multiple international productions, none of which were slowed by the wretched interruption of the COVID pandemic. Less than two weeks before this Melbourne opening night, the Broadway production of Six won two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score for Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.
Given its fringe origins, Six is an ideal fit for Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, flooding the relatively intimate space with throbbing music and rock stadium lighting. The heady combination of mega-talented cast, glittering production, and fabulous material conjures an irresistibly electric atmosphere, grabbing the audience by the lapels and not letting go for the breathlessly brisk 75-minute running time.
Taking something of a cue from Hamilton, Six is based in historical fact yet takes something of a revisionist view, in this case, placing a loving lens on the lives of six sensationally self-confident women who happened to all have wed the same guy.
The design and concept of Six are as simple as they are incredibly effective. On a single set wearing a single set of costumes, six leading ladies sing up a storm in a range of styles each inspired by iconic divas. There is a sense of Australian Idol in the “contest” conceit, and yet even this loose narrative thread is eventually swept away as the women come to realise the power of their combined strength.
Australian associate director Sharon Millerchip makes well-judged use of Australian accents for a natural feel, with the cheeky humour landing well with this Aussie flavour. Diction of the six women is noticeably crisp, reflecting strong preparation from music director Claire Healy, who also leads the “Ladies in Waiting,” that being the terrific all-female band on stage.
There is a definite feel good lightness to the show, and yet each song tells a captivating and satisfying story. The heartfelt female empowerment message packs a real punch, and the women successfully ensure that the audience is very much laughing with them.
The six performers are splendidly cast, each delivering powerhouse vocals, which blend harmoniously in sassy ensemble work. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s razor-sharp choreography matches the tight space with tighter moves, each mere flick of the skirts earning howls of appreciation from the audience.
As Catherine of Aragon. Phoenix Jackson Mendoza has the vibrant confidence to set a high standard for performance energy as she begins the solo numbers by channeling Beyoncé with “No Way.”
Kala Gare is utterly hilarious as Anne Boleyn, completely upending the usually serious historical figure. Addictive ear worm “Don’t Lose Ur Head” is a great example of Marlow and Moss’ devilish humour in juxtaposing modern parlance with historical context.
In a welcome change of pace, Loren Hunter shines in vibrant Adele-style singing power ballad “Heart of Stone” as Jane Seymour tugs at the heartstrings with her tragic tale.
After a fluoro-tinged visit to Germany for “Haus of Holbein,” Kiana Daniele rocks out as Anna of Cleves with celebratory hip-hop number “Get Down.”
Pretty in pink playing Katherine Howard, Chelsea Dawson enhances the bubble gum pop of “All You Wanna Do” by unleashing deceptively powerful vocals.
World theatre attention has recently been focused squarely on the indispensable talents of swings and understudies. In yet another example of a swing saving the day, the role of Catherine Parr was played at this Melbourne opening night performance by swing Shannen Alyce Quan (filling in for Vidya Makan). Quan brings a sense of mystery to dark horse Catherine Parr, the final lady to tell her story, unleashing all the soul of Alicia Keys in “I Don’t Need Your Love.”
A brilliant introduction to musical theatre for younger theatregoers, Six is unabashed good fun with a sprinkling of social awareness thrown in for good measure.
Photos: James D Morgan – Getty Images