“a sensational show … the script sizzles with wit”
Does Six need introducing? Is there anyone at this point who isn’t aware of the musical phenomenon that’s snowballed massively in popularity since 2018, resulting now in its permanent fixture at the Vaudeville Theatre? Probably not. Its simple but effective and easily marketable concept is what propelled the show so far, after all. But, three years on, does it still stand up, stand out, and hook you in?
For those unfamiliar with the premise (both of you), Six sees Henry VIII’s wives brought together on stage. They decide to perform for the audience in turn, each trying to prove that they were the wife who had it the worst. They all rise to the challenge, belting out anthems to the audience about the hardships they suffered, in what feels more like a concert than a run-of-the-mill musical: the band (led superbly by Lauren Hopkinson) are prominently on stage for the whole performance, the costumes (Gabriella Slade) look like they were stolen straight out of the wardrobe of the latest pop icon’s arena tour, and the set (Emma Bailey) and lighting (Tim Deiling) are clearly invoking the feeling of being at a gig. It makes for a spectacle for the senses which frequently dazzles.
The cast are also clearly having an absolute blast. Under the direction of Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, they work stupendously well together, quickly establishing defined characters through bickering interactions between songs and generating a rapport that’s a delight to watch. The standouts were undoubtedly Cherelle Jay and Alexia McIntosh, who in this performance played Anne Boleyn and Anna of Cleves respectively. Jay’s song, ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ is performed with enrapturing charm and cheekiness, while McIntosh’s smugness and interplay with the audience in ‘Get Down’ will leave your face hurting from the grin that’ll be plastered on it. The vocals from all the cast are also jaw-on-the-floor fantastic, with Hana Stewart (Catherine Parr in this performance) being especially exceptional.
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have crafted a sensational show together: the music would feel right at home in the charts but never forgets to serve the characters above all else, and the script sizzles with wit. There are some moments towards the end when it feels a little student-y, but it’s tremendously easy to overlook when the rest of the show is so joyous. Six is still totally superlative, and I expect it will continue to be for many years to come.
“The ingredients, the writing, the musicality and the star-studded cast promise something to be respected and admired. But there is a definite sense of disappointment.”
‘Disenchanted’ (dɪsɪnˈtʃɑːntɪd/): disappointed by someone or something previously respected or admired; disillusioned. Synonyms include; let down, fed up, cynical, disabused. There is no question as to who the ‘someone or something’ singled out in Dennis T. Giacino’s “Disenchanted! A New Musical Comedy” is, and its subversive twist on the Disney fairy tale marketing machine, if not new, is a delight to watch. The swipes at the established misogynism, racism and many other ‘isms’ inbuilt into the portrayal of our favourite princesses are much needed, and Giacino has dressed them in pastiche melodies and some ingeniously clever and witty lyrics. It could do with perhaps more subtlety and less preachiness and bitterness, but the energy and gung-ho feistiness of all involved will appeal to all genders and persuasions.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, some artistic decisions for this current digital revival make for awkward viewing, for the wrong reasons. ‘Digital’ is the key word. This is inherently a musical that needs to be witnessed live, in the flesh, a few sheets to the wind, in like-minded company. We, the audience, are being heckled and cajoled by these comic geniuses and we should be simultaneously shamed and charmed. It is cabaret at its finest. We should be ‘loving it!’. But, rather than challenging preconceptions, this version challenges our patience.
In the original Off-Broadway run in 2014 there is a wonderful moment midway through – a gorgeous swipe at the Disney franchise. The ‘Princess who Kissed the Frog’ sings “Why’d it take ‘em so long to give a sister a song… ‘cause I am that storybook princess that’s fin’lly gone black”. Giacino’s point is that it wasn’t until 2009 when, for the first time in animation history, the fairest of them all was black. Director Tom Jackson Greaves’ decision to introduce such diversity into the casting of ‘Disenchanted’ way before this moment lets the joke fall somewhat flat.
Overall, the irreverence of the material is dampened by the exaggerated gaiety of the cast. And the hue-changing green screen backdrop distracts instead of being a neutral backdrop to the colourful characters. It takes an effort not to be snagged by these grating hurdles, but for those who make the effort to overcome them there is some reward. There is a very fine line up of performers indeed. Led by Jodie Steele’s ‘Snow White’ and aided by side kicks Allie Daniel (Sleeping Beauty) and Sophie Isaacs (Cinderella) we are guided through a series of vignettes in which various princesses are summoned to sing their way through their dissatisfactions and parody the princess culture. Highlights include Grace Mouat’s ‘Pocahontas’ (a character hitherto homogenised by the entertainment industry willing to distort her true Native-American story purely to sell cinema tickets) who sardonically sings that she “looks like a porn star”. Jenny O’Leary, as ‘Rapunzel’, brilliantly bemoans the total absence of royalties she receives from the global merchandising of her name in a Kurt Weill inspired number. And Courtney Bowman’s scathing but catchy diatribe against Middle Eastern misogyny is inspired.
There is a tenuous thread running through the musical numbers, reinforced by the repeated #princesscomplex hashtag. The messages are clear, but even now becoming a bit dated; and the balance between spite and humour aren’t always weighed up fully. Its intended audience is clear too, but the delivery is confused and awkward, like the shady, disenchanted state of limbo an adolescent might feel: too old for the youth club but too young for the pub.
‘Disenchanted’ (dɪsɪnˈtʃɑːntɪd/): it lives up to its definition. The ingredients, the writing, the musicality and the star-studded cast promise something to be respected and admired. But there is a definite sense of disappointment.