If you haven’t heard of the musical Six yet, you will soon. Its meteoric rise in popularity, often compared to Hamilton, is part of what many say is the new wave of theater.
Six just finished its run with the Chicago Shakespeare Company and the actors are currently traveling across the country on a tour culminating in a Broadway debut in February 2020.
In the show, King Henry VIII’s six ex-wives create a girl group and compete to decide who had it the worst while married to him. They do this, naturally, through songs—many of which have pop and hip-hop influences. It's formatted as if the audience were attending one of their concerts.
The show's been a smash hit since its 2017 debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a world-renowned comedy and theater festival held each summer in Scotland. Brannon Bowers, an assistant producer in the theatre program, saw the premiere with a group of students in the American Music Theatre Project.
“Even then, it took over the festival,” Bowers said, noting that it was sold out almost every night of its run. “It was sold out almost every night. We were lucky to get tickets.”
Communication freshman Olivia Behr found out about the show through social media.
“It’s getting a lot of internet buzz, especially because of how TikTok famous it is,” she said, adding that she first heard about the show through musical theatre Instagram pages.
Six’s popularity follows a growing trend of historical musicals that aim to look at the past in a new light. The most famous example? Hamilton, which is the most streamed musical soundtrack ever. Six is now in second place.
“There’s a big shift in the landscape of theatre," Communication freshman Lauren Kelly said. "Shows like Six are helping do that by introducing and popularizing more contemporary genres.”
According to Bowers, while the idea of a historically-based musical isn’t necessarily new, the way that both of these shows take historical figures and make them relevant to modern day by recontextualizing and musicalizing them is refreshing and innovative.
Part of the popularity, Bowers theorizes, is also because both Six and Hamilton “tap into social and political issues we’re all grappling with.”
In an interview with TheaterMania, composer and co-writer Toby Marlow said he and co-writer Lucy Moss were looking at how women have been underrepresented in history when the idea came to them.
Kelly believes this is one of the show’s strong suits.
“Aside from it just being a good musical, I think it’s also important that it’s a story about giving voices back to the women in history that are often forgotten and discredited,” she said.
Both Behr and Bowers agree that the show’s fresh approach to history is important, especially as a way for theatre to reach new audiences.
“It’s exciting and different,” Behr said. “It’s making history accessible and more palatable for audiences who are younger.”
Six is coming to Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse in July 2020. Tickets will be on sale soon.
Thumbnail credit: Six The Musical.