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Six ex-wives fight over who had it the worst in this Tony-winning Broadway musical now in Dallas

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Joan Marcus
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The cast of one of the North American tours of "Six," running through Dec. 25 at Winspear Opera House, presented by Broadway Dallas.

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Often lumped together as royal rejects, the ex-wives of King Henry VIII sing, “History’s about to be overthrown,” in the opening number of the Broadway show "Six."

“Remember us, from PBS?” they ask.

Not like this. That’s because the hit musical recounts the Tudor-era stories of the king’s six former spouses — Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr — in the style of contemporary pop divas, like Lizzo and Britney Spears.

University of Cambridge studentsToby Marlow and Lucy Moss wrote "Six" five years ago after Marlow won a spot in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He had an idea for a show with Henry VIII’s wives as a kind of girl group.

“They wanted to write a show for their friends, especially female friends, where they could be funny and fierce,” said music supervisorRoberta Duchak, who has been with "Six" since its first American production. “They wrote some amazing songs.”

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Joan Marcus
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Amina Faye belting out Jane Seymour's signature tune, "Heart of Stone," in a North American tour of the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Six."

Its unlikely journey to Broadway, where "Six" won this year’s Tony for best original score, is also the tale of how the modern American musical, a relatively young art form, remains malleable, subject to changing tastes in popular entertainment.

With that in mind, here are six things to know about "Six."

1. It’s part of a new wave of musicals trading in 21st-century sensibilities that can be traced at least as far back as "Hamilton" and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s use of rap to tell the story of America’s founding fathers.

"Six" employs contemporary pop styles, with each wife’s signature song inspired by a different female hitmaker. For instance, Katherine Howard’s “All You Wanna Do” sounds right out of the Britney Spears songbook. It even follows the same chord progressions as Spears’ 2004 hit “Toxic.”

The other characters perform in the styles of Lizzo (Anna of Cleves), Beyoncé (Catherine of Aragon), Miley Cyrus (Anne Boleyn), Adele (Jane Seymour) and Celine Dion (Catherine Parr).

Many of the songs are sassy, starting with the wives matter-of-factly chanting their fates: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”

2."Six" is cast without regard to race or ethnicity. Henry VIII’s wives were white, but in the Broadway and touring shows they have mostly been played by Black, Asian and Hispanic women — five of the six in Dallas.

“It doesn’t matter what they look like,” Duchak said. “Casting is based on personality. Can they hit the notes and dance the dance?”

This trend toward non-traditional casting got a big boost from "Hamilton." Lin-Manuel Miranda envisioned it as a hip-hop musical, starring young actors of color. The idea goes back at least to a1994 production of "Carousel" that cast Black actor Audra McDonald in a typically white role.

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Joan Marcus
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Gerianne Pérez as Catherine of Aragon (center) and the actors playing King Henry VIII's other ex-wives in the touring production of the Broadway musical "Six" now in Dallas at Winspear Opera House.

3. "Six" is presented as both a concert and competition. There’s no real set or fourth wall. The characters directly address the audience, explaining they are there to fight over which wife had it the worst.

A four-member,all-female band performs on risers flanking the stage. Based on real-life ladies-in-waiting from the English court, the band members become characters themselves.

4. Among the standout songs are “Heart of Stone,” Jane Seymour’s signature power ballad, and “Get Down,” a funny, funky solo for Anna of Cleves.

Seymour died in childbirth and belts she’s the only one Henry “truly loved.”

Anna, meanwhile, disappoints her husband because she doesn’t look like the painting he commissioned of her before they met. She brags about her independent wealth and about spilling mead on her gold-trim dress without a care.

“It has a party vibe,” Duchak said of Anna’s “Get Down.” “She gets the audience going.”

5. The musical cleverly trades on the often forgotten500-year-old history of King Henry’s reign and his fickle taste in women. A recurring motif has the characters alternately singing the numbers “one” and “six.” “One” for how most people think of them — as a group — “six” for their individual stories, which have been lost to time.

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Brett Beiner Photography
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"Six" music supervisor Roberta Duchak.

“The only reason we know their names is they were married to the same guy,” Duchak says. “They give voice to the voiceless instead of just being the wives.”

6. "Six" runs through Dec. 25 at Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. $40-$155. broadwaydallas.org.

Arts Access is a partnership between KERA and The Dallas Morning News that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and a former staff critic at The Dallas Morning News.