80 minutes, no intermission. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St. 212-719-4099
Rare is the girl-power show in which the characters died 500 years ago.
But that’s “Six,” the new musical about Henry VIII’s sextet of wronged wives that finally opened Sunday night on Broadway. It was a victorious moment for this upbeat, high-energy British import. The show was originally slated to open on March 12, 2020, but hours before the curtain went up, all theaters were shut down for what turned into an 18-month eternity. Now “Six” is back and vivacious as ever.
That exuberance comes out of left field, considering the first words we hear are “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” the old history-class trick for remembering the English wives’ fates. “Off with her head!” is not exactly “Spice Up Your Life.”
The Spice Girls, however, are as big a character in “Six” as Anne Boleyn is. Same goes for Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Britney Spears. Calling itself a “histo-remix,” the musical turns its queens into pop divas.
They’re on a tour, called “Divorced, Beheaded, Live,” and the women — Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr — have a nightly competition to decide who has led the most pitiable life. Kind of like “Cats,” but with cat fights.
“People say Henry was stone-hearted,” wistfully recalls Jane Seymour (Abby Mueller). “And I’m not sure he was.” Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet, hilarious) shoots back: “There was this one cute time where I had a daughter, and he chopped my head off.”
“Six” is more of a concert than a traditional book musical, though, with nine numbers and a megamix crammed into a quick 80 minutes. The songs here, by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, are all whip-smart and catchy. With jukebox shows proliferating like rabbits, audiences are getting used to hearing modern music onstage, but “Six” is one of the few original musicals in memory whose score is radio-ready.
As Katherine Howard, Samantha Pauly wails “All You Wanna Do,” about her lifelong allure to men, in a way that recalls Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” And Brittney Mack, as Anna of Cleves, shakes the floor with a rousing R&B number about Henry’s dismay when they finally met, having only seen her portrait before then. “You say that I tricked ya,” she sings. “ ’Cause I didn’t look like my profile pic-cha!”
All of the lyrics are just as clever. Marlow and Moss (nice ring to that) are sharp and never pretentious. They’re a pair of history buffs on a nightclub dance floor, sipping vodka sodas while chatting about the Real Housewives.
During the opening number, the queens tell us, “You’re gonna hear us live — in consort.” And in a bubblegum song called “Don’t Lose Your Head,” Anne explains her failed attempt to wed Henry thusly: “We tried to elope, but the Pope said, ‘Nope.’ ”
The one element lacking in “Six,” which is co-directed by Moss and upper-and-comer Jamie Armitage, is scale. Emma Bailey’s set, a simple light-up concert shell with an all-women onstage band, is roughly the same as the one used at the production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2019, where tickets went for far less than what they cost on Broadway. For a short show — one inspired by Swift and Beyoncé, no less — it needs more production value and dazzle: the royal treatment, if you like.
Still, “Six” doesn’t come up short on fun.