Henry VIII’s Wives Come Out Swingin’ and Singin’
The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX | CREDIT: Joan Marcus
SIX BRINGS SONGS OF HISTORICAL HEARTBREAK TO THE BELK THEATER
If you fell asleep during history class, Blumenthal Performing Arts is determined to wake you up this season.
Earlier this month, 1776 brought us a musical take on the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a casting twist. All the roles were played by multi-ethnic actors who identify as female, nonbinary or trans. Now, it’s time to jump in the Delorean with Marty and Doc Brown and head back to 16th-century England to meet the six wives of King Henry VIII. But, back to the present: SIX, the Tony Award®–winning, electrifying new musical by Tony Award® winners Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss bursts onto the Belk Theater stage July 4-16. Tickets are on sale now
Amina Faye as Jane Seymour in The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX | CREDIT: Joan Marcus
You may not know much about King Henry VIII, but we’re willing to bet you know he was married … a lot. Six times, in fact. (He divorced two wives. Two others, he … um … executed.) You’ll get to know them. Just so you know, Queen Charlotte was not among the six. She was married to King George III.
While Henry’s story looms large in history, the individual stories of his wives haven’t fared as well. Until now.
SIX remixes the life stories of Henry’s spouses by reimagining each of them as a pop icon. Six modern-day divas with powerful voices (and glammed-up wardrobes) belt out ballads of historical heartbreak with, as their press release says, “21st-century girl power.”
The musical won 23 awards in the 2021/22 Broadway season, including the Tony Award® for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. The album of the original Broadway cast, SIX: LIVE ON OPENING NIGHT debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard cast album chart.
So popular is SIX that two separate casts are traveling the country right now. The Boleyn tour – the cast and crew headed to Charlotte – will perform together for the 300th time while visiting the Queen City.
SIX’s cast includes Charlotte-area native (and a former Blumey winner) Amina Faye portraying Jane Seymour. Even the four-player band, which appears on stage (and in costume) is composed of performers who identify as female or non-binary.
To get a sense of what it’s like to use music to keep the stories of the wives alive, we Zoomed with the tour’s music director, Lena Gabrielle, for an energetic chat about the show.
A composer herself, Gabrielle’s job is to collaborate with the entire creative team to make SIX’s score come alive. She leads the orchestra and, in this case, plays keyboard and conducts on stage. Our conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Terica Marie as Anna of Cleves (center) in The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX | CREDIT: Joan Marcus
What can audiences expect from SIX?
I encourage people to go in completely blind. It’s a unique theatrical experience. There’s really no way to know what to expect until you get there.
SIX is staged like a pop concert with backup singers, and each of the queens is a pop icon. The actors wear earpieces and are hearing the music just like they would at a pop concert. The lighting is like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Each song is [sung in] a different [real] pop icon’s style. So you can listen to each queen and say, oh, that was clearly modeled after Beyonce or Adele or Ariana Grande.[EDITOR’S NOTE: We pressed Gabrielle for a description of the lights – to no avail. She’s good at keeping the show’s secrets. She was adamant that they defied description and must be experienced live.]
In SIX, the band (and you) perform on stage with the queens. Typically in a Broadway musical, the accompanying musicians remain unseen. What’s that experience like for you?
We are literal characters in the show. We have character names – the names of real ladies-in-waiting to some of the queens. The queens will speak to us; they will make eye contact with us. They’ll turn to us and ask for advice.
The musical score is a character, too, right?
Music is always a character in a show.
The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX | Joan Marcus
And, there’s a nod to history with the music, I hear.
The sounds [integrated into the show] are really, really clever. You’ll notice the song Greensleeves sprinkled throughout the score.[EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a long-standing urban legend that Henry VIII had Greensleeves composed for Anne Boleyn, before he married her – and had her beheaded.]
What has it been like working with a cast in which no one identifies as male?
It’s really inspiring to be in a group of 15 [who identify as female or nonbinary]. There are a couple of men on our crew, and they’re absolutely amazing. But to have all of the “non-male” energy on the tour is really cool and inspiring.
Your original career path was to write the scores for movies, right?
Yes, motion pictures. And then I thought I wanted to write musicals for a while. Then I realized that I wanted to help others develop their musicals with arrangement and music direction/conducting.
I wanted to play in the orchestra because I liked being part of a group. I found that my work with musical arrangements and theater development flexes the same muscle as composition. But, the collaborative and in-person aspects of executing the arrangement bring me so much more joy than writing, even though I do still write.
It’s the joy of my life to help other people achieve what they can.
Gerianne Pérez as Catherine of Aragon (center) in The North American Tour Boleyn Company of SIX.| CREDIT: Joan Marcus
SIX-TEEN CHANCES TO SEE SIX
The Boleyn tour cast of SIX will perform in the Belk Theater 16 times between July 4 and July 16. Tickets start at $36.50 and are on sale now.
This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts. A portion of the proceeds from this sponsorship will be used to fuel a H.U.G. micro-grant awarded to a local creative to assist them in a project based in Mecklenburg County.