I saw ‘SIX’ on Broadway and in the West End 438 days apart
I saw SIX on Broadway on March 8, 2020. Two days later news broke that an usher at the show had tested positive for Covid-19. Four days later, hours before the musical was scheduled to open, Broadway shuttered and remains so 15 months later.
A lot has happened around the world and in the theatre community during this unprecedented shutdown and global pandemic. And while vaccinations and reopening measures mean that Broadway shows can come back in the fall (SIX will start performances on Sept. 17), the world has changed and the way we see and appreciate the arts has shifted.
In those intervening months, I also experienced a lot of personal change. For one, I moved across the pond, where theatres are reopening somewhat sooner with shows playing to socially distant audiences at the moment. The first show I saw back? SIX on May 21, 2021…438 days later.
There’s something poetic about returning to the same show and the same story after a paradigm-shifting pandemic turned the world on its axis. There’s also something simultaneously inspiring and frustrating about the fact that this pop musical’s message about women coming together and reclaiming their narrative hasn’t lost any relevance or import in the months gone by. If anything, the show has become more poignant.
And then there’s the purely visceral reaction and experience. I’m someone who in “normal” times (what does that even mean anymore?) attends the theatre three to four times a week. so to go from 150 shows a year to zero was quite a trip.
Walking into the Lyric Theatre, I was immediately overwhelmed by the experience of being in a theatre again – the winding staircases to the balcony, the red velvet upholstered seats, the sparkling chandelier, the pre-show music. Everything about the experience was triggering in the best way, recalling a simpler time when this was my life and realizing the gratitude I’d forgotten to practice for the ability to attend shows safely.
Speaking of safety, that was of the utmost import in all the measures implemented, like socially distanced seats, one-way entry system, temperature checks, track and trace, and mandatory masks. The ushers and theatre employees enforced all the precautions, and the experience definitely felt safe and secure.
Now, let’s get to the show itself. SIX is already set up like a pop concert, where the wives of Henry VIII come together as a girl group to reclaim their stories and shine a light on who they were as people instead of just wives, or rather “ex-wives.” However, on its first night back in the West End, the atmosphere at the show, even with distancing measures in place, felt like a full-on concert. There were extended ovations and hollers for everyone’s favorite queens, and Jane Seymour’s tears during “Heart of Stone” definitely seemed real. (She still hit that high D though because she’s a queen.)
I found myself crying too. Theatre and art is intrinsically emotional, but couple that with the year-plus long dearth of live performance and the experience is somewhat overwhelming. Going to the theatre and attending live events is something I took for granted. It was built into my daily life and work. I never expected that would end.
So when it did, I felt like I shut down a part of myself and didn’t let that piece thrive or flourish, as we all focused on survival and making it through these unparalleled times. But also, in times of deep sorrow and tribulation, we need art and stories to help us make it though the darkness. Being back at the theatre felt physically and emotionally healing, and the show is of course “one-of-a-kind, no category.” If anything, I identified more with the queens, who felt lost in history; I too felt lost in this time of Covid.
Being back at a show felt like reclaiming my own narrative. I will never experience theatre the same way again, and I’m glad for that. I’m more grateful and appreciative of the experience, and I can’t wait for everyone to revisit and rekindle their love for the stage. You’re free to take your crowning glory.