A True History

Learning History Through Broadway: Six

Like a lot of other people, I went through that Hamilton phase back when it stormed onto the Broadway scene back in 2017. If you didn’t experience it, I can guarantee you likely knew somebody who was listening to the soundtrack on repeat for a while there. I enjoyed it not only because the music was incredibly catchy, but also because there was so much History woven into the plot that I knew nothing about. Lin Manuel Miranda definitely did his research!

But Hamilton isn’t the only History driven show to have graced the Great White Way. Actually, let’s face it, there aren’t exactly many shows on Broadway that didn’t originate as a story from History, a book, or another form of media. My favorite new History-based show to hit New York City is called Six which is a show about the six wives of Henry VIII.

Admittedly, I only knew the basics of these women. I knew the rhyme: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived and I vaguely knew their names and some of the things they did, but I devoured this musical recently and was so enamored with the stories of these former Queens that I spent hours doing extra research. Obviously if you put Historical stories to a good beat then I’ll listen and then spend the rest of the month buying every book on the topic or reading every scholarly journal I possibly can. This just serves as proof that if you put a good story to music I can sing along to, I will be so enamored by it that I’ll listen to it on repeat while doing extra research about it.

Sometimes it’s interesting to me how we can hear stories about people from History so often that we kind of forget that they were real people too. Often so much of these figures boils down to a lot of hearsay and the one or two big things that they did that got everybody’s attention. We forget what brought them to that point, the lives that they lived, and their personal accomplishments.

Six only has nine songs. An opening, a “rewritten History” epilogue, a fun dance song, and one song for each ex-wife. Each of those personal songs is an homage to a pop artist (Beyonce, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Adele, etc.) so they are all fairly fast paced and fit a lot of information into a short period of time, but they all hit the mark so well. They make the historical queens jump off the page and their stories of their relationships to Henry VIII and to their contemporaries in general are on full display where the audience really gets an understanding of the parts of their lives that aren’t usually taught in school.

Catherine Howard’s story was the one that really converted me. She was the wife I knew the least about and her song was the longest, but her song is a bop and it really details parts of her (incredibly short) life that is often glossed over in favor of how it all ended. The upbeat song really masks the dark and quite sad life she lived, but I was fascinated by it and I think most of my research about these wives after listening to this was about poor Catherine Howard.

I highly recommend checking out this musical. You can listen to it online pretty much anywhere and whenever Broadway opens back up, it’ll be making its big debut! I know I’ll probably do a much more detailed look into the lives of these women at some point, but for now I’ll just leave you with a suggestion to check out this musical for yourself – there’s only 9 songs after all.