If you’re looking for a good time, chances are you’ll find it at “Six.”
If you’re looking for a bona fide, fully realized musical, look elsewhere.
“Six,” which will be at the Emerson Colonial Theatre till New Year’s Eve, is essentially an 80-minute concert of original pop songs enfolded within a clever concept: that the six wives of Henry VIII finally get their overdue say.
Buoyant, brash, and generally badass, the Queens are out to settle a few scores with Henry, set the historical record straight, claim the agency most of them lacked during their lifetimes, and, along the way, do their bit to smash the patriarchy.
Their respective fates have been reduced in history to a cold-blooded rhyme: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." But in “Six," the Queens insist on their right to be fully seen, as individuals.
Yet their means to that end are often rather … Henry-centric. To wit, they engage in a contest, solo by solo, over which of them suffered the most misery from their marriage to the hot-tempered Tudor. (Being beheaded would seem hard to beat, but the other Queens are in it to win it.)
Between “Ex-Wives," the catchy, we’re-all-in-this-together opening number sung by all six, and “Six," the finale, the Queens throw a lot of shade at one another. True solidarity emerges late in the show.
“Six” had a pre-Broadway run at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater in the summer of 2019, then headed for New York. It occupies a place in Broadway lore because on the day it was slated to open — March 12, 2020 — Broadway theaters were shuttered by the pandemic. “Six” eventually opened last fall, and ended up winning the Tony Award this year for best original score and another, well-deserved Tony for Gabriella Slade’s glittery costume design.
“Six” creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss devoted most of their energies to the show’s infectious music and punchy lyrics, though the score consists of a skimpy nine songs. (”A Strange Loop” has twice that many; “Hadestown” has more than three times that many; “Hamilton” has five times that many.) The show’s book appears to have been an afterthought. It’s laced with deliberate anachronisms, which is fine, and the occasional groan-worthy pun (”OK, ladies, let’s get into Reformation").
Under the direction of Moss and Jamie Armitage, with lighting design by Tim Deiling that goes all-in on purple and green, “Six” is as glitzy and garish as any Las Vegas floor show, as anthem-packed as any concert by Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. On its own aesthetic terms, “Six” works well. But you may find yourself wishing for more story, a deeper dive, than is possible within the very slender narrative framework in which “Six” operates.
The cast at the Colonial is a dynamic sextet who mesh well together, generating a kinetic charge with their high-powered vocals and their sharp execution of Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s tightly synchronized choreography.
Each cast member — Khaila Wilcoxon as Catherine of Aragon, Storm Lever as Anne Boleyn, Jasmine Forsberg as Jane Seymour, Olivia Donalson as Anna (also known as Anne) of Cleves, Didi Romero as Katherine Howard, and Gabriela Carrillo as Catherine Parr (also spelled as Katherine) — proves more than up to the challenge when it’s time for her solo.
A particular standout is Donalson, especially with her solo, “Get Down," in which Anna dismisses Henry’s disappointment that she did not prove to be as attractive as her portrait. Donalson turns the defiance up to 11 as she sings: “You, you said that I tricked ya/’Cause I, I didn’t look like my profile picture/Too, too bad I don’t agree/So I’m gonna hang it up for everyone to see/And you can’t stop me/’Cause I’m the queen of the castle/Get down, you dirty rascal."
“Six" is part of a broader trend toward feminist reimaginings or reframing of historical figures and well-known stories.
That lens is central to the work of playwrights like Lauren Gunderson, whose “Ada and the Engine,” about Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century English mathematician considered the first computer programmer, was presented earlier this fall at Central Square Theater. The title of Kate Hamill’s “Dracula (A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really”), presented last month by The Umbrella Stage Company in Concord, conveys Hamill’s message before a single word of dialogue is uttered.
“Six,” too, is a revenge fantasy of a sort. It would be a stronger show, though, if that fantasy contained a few more layers.
Music, lyrics, and book by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage. Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At Emerson Colonial Theatre. Through Dec. 31. Tickets start at $54.75. www.BroadwayInBoston.com