Who would have thought the story of the ill-fated wives of an English king could turn into a power pop spectacle that has become a global phenomenon?
The musical Six, written by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow, hits the Canberra Theatre stage on 23 April for a three-week run after selling out the Sydney Opera House night after night.
The brainchild of Cambridge University students for an end-of-year revue, the concept was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then picked up by a West End producer, the rest as they say is history.
The show is also currently playing on Broadway, the West End, touring the UK and the US. The studio album has achieved more than 450 million streams across all platforms worldwide, and more than three billion views on TikTok.
It is a period that has long fascinated dramatists. But in this version, Henry VIII’s queens get to reclaim their stories in song and dance in the style of pop divas Beyonce and Adele.
Australian associate director, Sharon Millerchip, says it takes a suspension of rationality but audiences are captured within five minutes.
“It’s part concert. It’s part musical. It’s part history lesson. It’s really funny. It gets a little bit dark because Henry VIII’s wives lead some pretty dark lives,” she says.
It’s also part “Trojan horse” for social comment on competition, divided agendas and female empowerment – although men are just as taken with the show as women.
“Triumphant empowerment isn’t what these six women got to experience,” Ms Millerchip says. “[But] we are taking back their story and singing for them and telling powerfully female stories.”
Despite fantastic settings, the show is deeply rooted in the past thanks to the literature and history students who wrote it. And cast members don’t miss out on learning about the period.
“We provide a lot of historical content for our cast to read and immerse them in the factual story of the queens they’re playing,” Ms Millerchip says.
Despite this healthy respect for history, the Australian production with local talent isn’t required to put on old-world English accents. Producers believe audiences will relate more to the characters if they sound like them.
That’s the philosophy wherever Six is staged.
The show is laced with witty dialogue as the queens compete to be lead singer. And you in the audience get to decide the winner based on which queen has had the worst time at the hands of Henry.
Ms Millerchip says the queens’ songs run the full gamut of vocal styles and dancing. But the show has its surprises.
“Part of the success of the show is that it turns corners all over the place where you just really don’t anticipate it’s going to go.”
The queens also exercise a degree of creative freedom from night to night so no one show is like the other.
All up, nine queens make up the realm to cover nine performances a week.
The “swings” even have their own fan base who flock to performances when they hear their favourites are on.
Ms Millerchip says Six showcases the depth of Australian talent with two of the original line-up now leads in Hamilton and Frozen.
“They are young, new, vibrant talents and have been given an incredible opportunity to play lead roles. They’ve taken it by the horns and will blow you away. People can’t quite believe it.”
She says the show is bringing people back to the theatre, particularly the younger generation often left out of the mix.
“It’s really powerful, particularly in the political climate where that creative element is encouraged in young people. I think it’s really important.”
To book visit the Canberra Theatre Centre website.