The tragic stories of Henry VIII's wives are transformed into a joyful celebration in SIX, which combines the Tudor tales with an electrifying blend of 21st-century girl power in a feat that promises to set history straight. The highly anticipated run of the Tony Award-winning phenomenon is drawing musical fanatics to the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex through its closing night on December 24.
"I think presenting a historical story with a contemporary backdrop brings a lot of fun and energy to what might otherwise be a more boring experience," says SIX drummer Kami Lujan. "Contextualizing events that happened centuries ago with modern storytelling is such a clever way to help people relate to what each of the six queens experienced when telling their stories, and it really helps reach such a varied audience."
What began as a musical written in the early months of 2017 by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss while attending Cambridge University has become an international sensation. The project was first presented as the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society's entry for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe later that year, with student actors and a one-month run. Following its successful run at the Fringe, SIX was picked up by United Kingdom producers, who helped Marlow and Moss mount several professional productions with a new creative team to work out the kinks before opening on London's West End.
SIX debuted on Broadway in March 2020 and, following a pandemic break, opened again in October 2021. The SIX: LIVE ON OPENING NIGHT Broadway album debuted at number one on the Billboard cast album charts and surpassed six-million streams in its first month. Snippets from the album's songs frequently go viral on social media, attracting new legions of fans to the musical while it continues its popular runs in New York City, London and Toronto and tours across both North America and the United Kingdom.
Gerianne Pérez as Catherine of Aragon, Zan Berube as Anne Boleyn, Amina Faye as Jane Seymour, Terica Marie as Anna of Cleves, Aline Mayagoitia as Katherine Howard, and Adriana Scalice as Catherine Parr.
But it's not just the on-stage talent that's breaking barriers. Behind the scenes, the bandmembers of SIX bring their own revolution to the pit. The on-stage band, known as the Ladies in Waiting, is made up entirely of women and nonbinary members dressed in costumes to match the show's pop-rock aesthetic.
"Even now, in 2023, most pit musicians are male," says Lena Gabrielle, associate music director and keyboard player in SIX. "So it's incredible to have so many female and nonbinary musicians featured in productions of SIX worldwide. ... Musicians are sometimes an afterthought in this industry. For example, music supervisors aren't often listed in press releases, they receive a lower billing than choreographers, and pits are often hidden behind the stage. So to have musicians featured visibly on stage is incredible in terms of helping audiences be aware that we exist."
Sterlyn Termine can speak to that transformational power of representation in the arts. "If I had the chance to see a show like SIX when I was younger, it would’ve changed the trajectory of my life," she says. "I went my entire life up until college thinking I couldn’t pursue music because I never saw it accomplished by people who looked like me. Had I seen this band and other Black women in the music and theater industry, it would’ve confirmed that my dreams were attainable, and I would’ve committed to music from the very start. I do not regret the journey that brought me where I am today, but I would’ve loved to see a younger Sterlyn who was less motivated by fear and more confident in her dreams."
The band's drummer, Lujan, admits that she still gets excited whenever she sees someone who looks like her playing the drums. Like the majority of people within the music community, Lujan has largely played in groups that are mostly men.
"I don’t take it for granted that it’s such a privilege and joy to play with a group of fantastic musicians that are women and nonbinary, as that’s not the norm in the music world," Lujan says. "You don’t realize how important it is to have people in positions that you aspire to that resemble you until the first time it happens, and it makes you realize that your dreams are actually a reality. Representation is so important, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that."
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As the city prepares to welcome this modern take on Tudor royalty, the message is clear: History, when remixed with contemporary energy and inclusive casting, becomes not just a lesson from the past, but a beacon for the future.
"SIX has certainly changed my perspective on the potential for music and theater to be an inspiration and indicator to future generations of performers that they can succeed in their goals," Termine says. "There are thousands of fans who love to see us perform. The youth can be encouraged by the fact that there is a world of fans who will also want to shower their talents with love and support. The theater community can diversify and change for the better if the next generation of youth is empowered by representation and [feels] welcomed to join. Being in the SIX community has opened my eyes to a world of diverse and talented individuals who are truly positive role models. I am honored and encouraged to stand firm, knowing that my presence in this community is doing just that."
SIX runs through Sunday, December 24, at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Get tickets at denvercenter.org.