Six the Musical—Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow’s musical that reimagines Henry VIII’s six queens as pop stars fighting for their place in the spotlight—is one for the history books. The show not only boasts a cast solely composed of women but also features an all-female musical ensemble. For the show’s creators, having all women performers, including its onstage band, was non-negotiable.
“It's all about female empowerment, and it just has to be told from a woman’s perspective. Even musically,” says American music supervisor Roberta Duchak.
Most Broadway instrumentalists perform from a pit, but directors Moss and Jamie Armitage envisioned that the actors and the band would embody a fully symbiotic relationship onstage. Affectionately nicknamed “The Ladies-in-Waiting,” the band performs atop risers that flank the stage, and their visibility is essential to the storytelling of Six. In addition to being decked out in costumes best described as Punk-meets-Tudor Chic, each musician adopts the persona of a real, historical lady-in-waiting.
Keyboardist and conductor Julia Schade (who plays "Joan") leads The Ladies, which consists of Michelle Osbourne (“Bessie”) on bass, Kimi Hayes (“Maggie”) on guitar, and Elena Bonomo (“Maria”) on drums. When they’re not playing through the show’s major numbers, The Ladies execute a myriad of musical cues, acting choices, and subtle choreography that further immerse the audience into the concert experience and underscore the razor-sharp wit of the show’s libretto.
Six is as much a pop concert as it is a musical—a fact which, coupled with its unique use of the band members, posed a unique challenge when it came to finding musicians. When auditioning players for the show’s North American premiere and pre-Broadway runs, Duchak and her team were looking for musicians who could play through a score that weaves in everything from English folk, to jazz and R&B. But above all else, Duchak wanted performers with strong “pop chops,” plus the stamina to play off-book and in the limelight eight shows a week.
“It's, first of all, finding the best players. And then it's like hiring actors...They have to want to be on stage.”
Watching The Ladies-in-Waiting rock out is a treat in itself. However, the optics of a female conductor leading a band of women illuminates another, richer layer to Six’s celebration of women stepping out of the margins. It’s at once a statement and an invitation to future generations of Broadway musicians.
“If you're a young piano player, or a guitar player, or just a young girl seeing what could possibly be in your future, it's exciting,” says Duchak. “When you see it in front of you, you're like, I could be that.”