Christina Savopoulos | June 11, 2022
Image Credit: James D. Morgan
SIX The Musical embraces and advocates for feminist narratives in its modern retelling of King Henry VIII’s wives, and it is coming to Melbourne this month. SIX has been nominated for 8 Tony Awards, with the winners to be announced this June 13th, and it comes from the minds of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Devised from the saying “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”, SIX presents the stories of the six wives of King Henry VIII through a pop-rock concert rendition; Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr. In its retelling, the wives compete against each other in a competition to see who was treated the worst by the Tudor King.
“…it’s such an ensemble show, it’s not a show where there’s one leading lady, there are six… it’s so important that you are linked, and you’re not ranked, and you are presenting as an ensemble—that’s the only way that the show really reads.”
– Kiana Daniele
I sat down with Kiana Daniele (Anna of Cleves) and Chelsea Dawson (Katherine Howard) before one of their Adelaide performances to hear about their experience with the show. Kiana is a VCA alumna and has performed in productions such as The Boy From Oz, Secret Bridesmaids Business, and in Dirty Dancing where she had the iconic role of Baby. Before joining the SIX cast, Chelsea performed in renditions of Les Misérables, Shrek The Musical and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The interview itself was a delightful experience; you would never have believed that Kiana and Chelsea only met within the past year or so. They interact as if they have been life-long friends, a comfort and energy which surely translates to the stage.
“But at the end, we’re a family and as soon as one falls we’re all there to pick that person up.
– Chelsea Dawson
All the music written for the wives has been reimagined through the lens of pop singers. SIX’s Anna of Cleves was inspired by the sound of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and Kiana has injected her own humour into the role with adding inspiration from Cardi B. Chelsea’s Katherine Howard leans into artists like Ariana Grande and Britney Spears, with Chelsea also mentioning Katy Perry as another inspiration for the role.
Each actress brings their own flair and interpretation of Marlow and Moss’ creation to the stage. Kiana and Chelsea spoke of the pressure of doing the musical justice, and the nagging feeling that they “need to justify or live up to other people’s versions as well”. However, they made it clear that the musical is “about celebrating everyone”, each individual production of SIX brings a unique and personal element that comes from each actress’ interpretation of their respective characters. Kiana said: “I think I’m the only Australian-Italian [version] of Cleves. So, any moment that you’re feeling a bit insecure about that, you just go ‘no, I need to celebrate that’.”
Considering the choreography of the musical alongside the overall rehearsal process, both Kiana and Chelsea spoke highly of the attention to detail and emphasis on history in its creation. Chelsea said, “Everything on that stage has a purpose, whether in its stylistic genre, in how we move our arms and where we’re putting our attitude.”
The artists also shared an exercise they were given during rehearsals: a lip sync battle. The aim of this was to allow the girls to “embody that stardom personality” and energy which is required throughout the musical. Kiana and Chelsea frequently mentioned the safe space of their rehearsal room and even currently as they continue their tour; it seems like an environment that allows them to tell the stories of historical women who were painted as outcasts—they give them a voice.
“I think that’s what’s so amazing about this show, is that everything is just alive. Even our band, you get to see our band on stage, and they’re interacting with the queens on stage, they have choreography, they’re part of some of the scenes.”
– Chelsea Dawson
Following a series of lockdowns and an overdue presence of live theatre, Kiana and Chelsea shared their love for being back and performing on tour. Chelsea mentioned the “smell of the theatre” which we all know and love, as well as the kabuki curtain entrance the production employs. The cast makes themselves at home in each new state and theatre they perform in and their love for the craft and performance in general is apparent.
Following is an edited transcript of my interview with Kiana and Chelsea:
Did you know much about the wives before taking this role?
Kiana Daniele: I really didn’t. The show was really new when I auditioned for it so we had a cast album and then we had a few megasixes that were online. But even going into the audition I didn’t really research much about it, until I got Anna of Cleves, I was like “okay I should probably learn a bit about her history”. And I knew that she was the fourth wife and that she was the ‘ugly one’, but it wasn’t until researching her that I realised how much of a boss she is, so it was good fun.
Chelsea Dawson: No, I didn’t, I didn’t know much about the wives. I kind of fell in love with the soundtrack as like a gym routine, it just came up on my Spotify. I was at the rowing machine because I was listening to ‘Whipped Into Shape’ because you know, musical theatre. I was in second year of Uni and I remember it popping up and I was becoming a bit obsessed with it, hearing about these six wives. And I was like “well this is a really interesting musical”. And then I auditioned for it in 2020, never really saw myself as a Howard as well, I loved Boleyn and I thought if I was ever gonna be one I’d be Bobo. I went to the audition kind of to be like ‘this is fun, I love this show’, but not thinking much of it. And then a week later they presented me with the role and that’s when I did more research on the other queens and all six of them are amazing women.
KD: You forget that you’re playing real people. It seems like you’re not, like ‘surely this isn’t what it was like’. But then ‘no, no, this actually happened’. He beheaded his wives.
Was there anything in particular you did to emotionally and mentally enter the mindset of these women, despite SIX being set in a different time period?
CD: I guess the thing about these women is that… what they went through is still the same thing that women are going through today. I really don’t think there’s much difference which is also the heartbreaking thing… history is kind of still repeating itself just in different fashion… I know that the topics that Howard covers with sexual assault, it can be very dark some days. I know that… but it’s very easy to feel safe and supported with this cast and company. Through the physical and vocal warm up to kind of get into the mindset and… we always do a group huddle before the show, that has to happen, if it doesn’t it feels a bit…
KD: …like a wobbly show. But then I think everyone has their individual things when they’re getting ready; I do like a little prayer sort of thing backstage where I ask to connect with Anna Cleaves. Little things that we do, and we want that permission to go onstage and do your version and do the best that you can and know that you’ll be supported and whatever happens happens, and then when you come off, you can be like ‘that happened. Now I can home and release it and sleep’.
Re-telling this story from the perspective of these women flips the narrative from a male dominated one, and also reflects issues in the music industry today with how women are treated. Did you have this in mind when performing, or during the rehearsal process?
CD: In the rehearsal process I felt a lot of pressure for Howard, also just because… I got cast in 2020 and then the pandemic happened, so I didn’t actually get to touch really the role with the creative team until the end of 2021. So of course, your mind can kind of go places, and I was definitely second guessing possibly why I was in the room. Also, I wanted to do [Howard’s song] justice and I wanted to make sure that people felt that their voices were being heard and also Katherine Howard’s, and that it does give some empowerment to women and to stand up and speak up. But the support and guidance was so big and beautiful that you know, I’m now in a place where I’m absolutely in love with Katherine Howard and yeah I can present that story nearly nine times a week.
KD: I think we all have those moments of imposter syndrome, whether that be in the rehearsal room or randomly on the eighth show of the week. The show is definitely watched in terms of it’s got a massive fanbase, which is really unusual for music theatre. When we got announced, the original cast, my phone was just blowing up and I was like “what is this?”.
Is there anything you’d like audience members to keep in mind when experiencing the show?
KD: Don’t be scared that it’s a new show and don’t be scared that it’s a show that you don’t really know much about. I think a lot of the time people, if they don’t know what the show is, they kind of just go “oh I just won’t” and I’m like if anything that’s more incentive to go see it because you don’t know what you’re gonna learn. Theatre is a spectrum, it has so much, and this show is so different and so cool that you want to experience something like this, because it will never happen, a show like this will never happen again.
CD: SIX will blow your mind, and I truly think everyone should give it a go because no matter what you’re going to fall in love.
KD: We’re so excited to bring it to Melbourne as well. I’m dying to bring it, my mum hasn’t even seen it yet! And we have Australian accents in it, like when do you see that? It’s beautiful to hear our accent on stage.
CD: And I think the more we do the media calls, I realise how hard it is to sell the show; it’s a musical that’s presented as a pop-rock concert, but it’s about King Henry VIII but it’s not really about him, it’s about his six wives. And that’s kind of all we’ve got to give, but it is so much more than that. It’s about sisterhood, it’s about female empowerment, it’s about giving these women a chance to reclaim their stories when they didn’t really have a voice in society. I think some people can get a bit scared of that, but just trust the process, buy a ticket, and we’ll see you there.
SIX The Musical opens in Melbourne June 17th at the Comedy Theatre. Don’t miss out on seeing their performance live!