Nicola Christie

How the British musical conquered the world

A new musical history is being written for Britain, which is finally giving the theatre industry something to cheer about

The ultimate feminist power piece: Abby Mueller (Jane Seymour), Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard), Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Brittney Mack (Anne of Cleves) and Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr) in the Broadway production of Six: The Musical. Credit: © Joan Marcus

What do Henry VIII’s wives, a Rastafarian musical icon and a drag queen have in common? They are all the subjects of new stage shows that are heralding a golden age of the British musical.

Let’s start with the court of Henry VIII. A pair of friends at Cambridge University, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, decided to write their own musical four years ago because the student theatre society couldn’t afford to pay the royalties for an existing one. They based it on the life stories of the six women who were unfortunate enough to marry Henry VIII. Six, as this debut effort came to be known, opens on Broadway this week, with huge advance ticket sales already achieved.

‘Historically, Britain was a place of Shakespeare, and new plays. America was a place of musicals’

There are various reasons for Six’s cataclysmic flight to fame: it’s the ultimate feminist power piece — six women righting their wrongs, a natural product of the #MeToo movement (though it was penned before #MeToo); the story is delivered — not unlike Hamilton’s use of hiphop — through street-sharp lyrics and patter that dazzle; and the production had a meticulously calculated route to the West End. ‘The journey on which you take your show is as important as what you write on the page,’ explains Six producer, Kenny Wax, who, along with producers Andy and Wendy Barnes, bought into the show early. ‘You can write a work of wonder but if you choose the wrong journey for that show, it won’t necessarily work. Having seen Six as a student show in Cambridge, we decided to book it at London’s Arts Theatre for four Monday nights in a row to test it out. It could have been an absolute catastrophe — you spend £350,000 to get it on, and £50,000 a week to run, so it’s a huge gamble.’

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