Review: Six the Musical Album


RATING: ★★★★

When I first heard about a musical about Henry VIII's six wives, I was skeptical. As someone who loves Tudor history and studied European history at university, I'm a bit sensitive to how Henry's wives (especially Anne Boleyn) are portrayed in the media. I've been burned by things like The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the show while I was in London, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much I like the album, even if I do have a few historical issues with it.

Six is a musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss that was first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. More pop concert than musical, the six queens compete to prove that each one of them was treated the worst in her lifetime and thus will get to lead the band. After a successful run at the Arts Theatre and a UK tour, it has returned to the Arts Theatre for a second run and has garnered five Olivier Award nominations. It will open in Chicago in May of 2019 and supposedly has its eye on a Broadway run.

The cast is composed of six women who play the feisty, sassy, and empowered queens. While the subject matter sounds like it would be rather depressing, the show itself is surprisingly uplifting. That said, Jane Seymour's ballad "Heart of Stone" (sung on the album by the wonderful Natalie Paris) and Catherine Parr's "I Don't Need Your Love" definitely tug at the heartstrings. The opening number "Ex-Wives" is so catchy, but it's Katherine Howard's absolute bop of a song "All You Wanna Do" that's my favorite. Aimie Atkinson sounds like the best of pop princesses.

The music feels like something that you could hear on the radio, but in a good way. I can definitely sense some Little Mix influence and maybe some Arianna Grande as well. The lyrics are clever even if they do sometimes lean into the modern language to the point of being cringe. One of my favorite lines is a play on "consort"/"concert".

The show definitely simplifies history as one might expect from a musical that only lasts seventy minutes. I will admit that I take serious issue with their presentation of Anne Boleyn, who is very focused on fun in the show while she was a serious politician and religious reformer in actuality. The Anne of the show feels a bit more like the woman shown in Catholic propaganda during her step-daughter Mary I's reign to be honest. I also feel like it's weird that they make a lot out of the fact that she was a lady-in-waiting to Henry's previous wife, Catherine of Aragon, without acknowledging that three of Henry's other wives were ladies-in-waiting for their predecessor.

For all these pretentious-historian issues that I have with the album, it's great fun. Every time I hear the line about the queens having spent "too many years lost in his story," I get chills. I would absolutely love to see this show in Chicago or when it comes to Broadway in the future. If you like pop music and musicals, I'd recommend checking out the album(...and then making reading a good book on Tudor history to learn the more nuanced real story!).

Review: Biltmore Estate's 'A Vanderbilt House Party'


Ever since I was a little girl, my family has been visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. My mom likes to tell stories about how when she first visited when she was in college, you could park around the lawn in front of the house. It was an integral and formative part of my childhood and helped spark my love for history at an early age. So I was thrilled to get to visit while they have this exciting new exhibit on.

The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States and was built in the 1890s by George Vanderbilt of the illustrious Vanderbilt family. George Vanderbilt was an intellectual who wasn't particularly interested in high society and sought out a place in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to escape from New York City life with his friends and family. There was something sort of beautiful and poetic about heading to Asheville from New York City to celebrate my little sister's birthday a couple of weekends ago.

The Biltmore currently has an exhibit on called "A Vanderbilt House Party" that has placed beautiful recreations of period clothing on mannequins throughout the house. The costumes are based on items from the Vanderbilts' and their friends' wardrobes and accompanied by photos of them in those outfits.


The costumes were designed and recreated by John Bright and Cosprop, London, with the help of Biltmore's curators. Bright is an Oscar-winning costume designer known for his work on A Room with a View (1986), Howards End (1992), and Sense and Sensibility (1995). From elegant suits to stunning dresses to faithfully recreated servants' uniforms, the clothes do a great job of giving you a better idea of what it would have been like to be at the Estate in its prime.


There is also a brand new audio guide created to go along with the exhibition that shares stories from people who attended house parties at the Biltmore in the early 1900s ranging from George and Edith Vanderbilt's family members to friends like author Edith Wharton. It uses 360ยบ sound techniques to give a fully immersive audio-visual experience.


One of the coolest things for me was seeing photos that I had grown up seeing brought to life in front of me through the clothing. A great example is the ensemble above which shows George and Edith's daughter Cornelia and her cousin at play. It's one thing to see a photograph of a historic figure, but seeing a recreation of their clothing somehow makes it easier to grasp the reality of their existence.


I also appreciated that they didn't just include house party guests in fancy outfits. They also have recreations of servants' uniforms and outfits for swimming in the indoor pool and working out in the gymnasium. It gives a beautifully holistic view of life on the Biltmore Estate at the turn of the century.


For those who have visited the Biltmore Estate before, this exhibit gives you a glimpse into life there as you've never had before. The audio guide is definitely worth the additional fee as it gives you a lot of new information including quotes from people who attended the house parties. I almost started to feel as though I could turn a corner and somehow re-enter the world of the Biltmore Estate when it was a bustling private home.

If you've never been before, it's well worth a visit even if you can't make it before the exhibit ends on May 27. In addition to the beautiful house, the Estate boasts a farm area where you can pet animals and see old farm equipment, a winery, and lots of outdoor experiences including horseback riding. The Biltmore is something truly special and the closest thing we have to a European castle here in America.

For more information, visit the Biltmore website.

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter Album


RATING: ★★★★★

When I first heard people on Twitter talking about a new album that was a blend of an Irish fairytale and a Disney musical, I knew I had to check it out. I vaguely remembered hearing about the Off-West End production of The Clockmaker's Daughter back in 2015 and was thrilled to see the names of some of my favorite performers on the cast list for the album. 

Not to be confused with the book of the same name, The Clockmaker's Daughter is an original musical with all new music by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn. It ranges from light comedy to a love story to a tragedy about discrimination. It takes place in a fictional Irish countryside town called Spindlewood and explores the origins of the odd ritual they perform every year. It's a story about love and loss, prejudice and the fear of the unknown. In other words, it's a perfect folk tale with music to match. 

The cast give beautiful vocal performances and really bring the story together so well with just their voices you almost feel like you can see it. The ever-wonderful Ramin Karimloo is great as the Clockmaker, while Christine Allado (well known for Hamilton in the West End) is lovely as his daughter Constance. Hannah Waddingham is absolutely hilarious in an almost Madame Thenardier-like role and Fra Fee shows off his abilities as a romantic lead. 

The music itself blends a more traditional musical theatre sound with influences from Irish music which gives it a really timeless feel. The musical excels at its large ensemble village songs like the opening number, "The Turning of the Key," or my personal favorite, "Spindlewood." "Keep It To Yourself" is my favorite 'gossip song' I've ever heard in a show. 

Ramin Karimloo does what he does best -- beautiful, longing angst -- in "You're Still Here" while Christine Allado's "A Story of My Own" is a ballad worthy of any Disney princess full of that optimistic longing that characterizes a show like Beauty and the Beast. "If You Could See My Heart" is one of the best love song duets I've heard in a musical in some time. The composers did a great job of having a lot of varied songs on the album making it impossible to feel bored while still preserving a cohesive sound. 

If you like Disney musicals, Irish music, fairytales, or traditional musical theatre, I feel confident in saying that you'll love this album. And if you love Irish accents even half as much as I do, you're guaranteed to enjoy it. While I still do have a few questions (and I'm eager to see this musical on stage), it does a great job of guiding you through most of the plot through the songs alone. I have to admit, there's something about walking through a crowd while listening to "Spindlewood" that has me ready to pack up and move to a small village in Ireland. 

Review: Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace


New York is full of exciting historical sites, but sometimes it's hard to know what the best ones are. After many, many Google searches, I landed on the Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace, a small and unassuming brownstone in Midtown that is a recreation of the house in which our twenty-sixth president grew up. Last weekend, I made the trip down and spent a couple of hours exploring.


The upstairs period rooms of the house can only be seen via guided tour with a park ranger. These tours last about thirty to forty-five minutes and happen every hour or so (check the website for more details). Make sure to get to the site a bit early to get your name on the list for the next tour, as they are limited to fifteen people. There's plenty to do while you wait for your tour, including a film, exhibit, and bathrooms. The tours, because they're led by rangers, will naturally differ a bit depending on who you get as your guide but mine was a nice balance between being informative enough that it felt worthwhile without going over anyone's heads. 


The Roosevelt family occupied a house at 28 East 20th Street from 1872 until Theodore (or "Teedie" as he was known in his youth) was fourteen years old. His father was a businessman and ardent philanthropist while his mother was a Southern belle from Georgia. Teedie and his three siblings were born and grew up in the house, living a life of comfort as they were one of the leading families of New York City despite the personal tragedies that plagued them. 


While his older sister Anna suffered from spinal issues, Theodore was a sickly and frail child largely due to his severe asthma. When he was eleven years old, upon his father's advice, he began trying to build up his own strength by doing exercises on the back porch. Over time, the scholarly bookish young boy gained the physique and health that we associate today with Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider and robust president who was passionate about national parks. The tour naturally focuses on his youth spent on the site, so it's useful to visit the exhibit first to learn about his career. 


While the house the Theodore actually lived in was demolished in 1916, after his death, his second wife and sisters began the process of rebuilding it. It opened to the public in 1923 and was donated to the National Park Service in 1963. Having been planned and restored by people who had lived in and visited the house themselves (his second wife Edith Carrow was a childhood friend of his sister's), it is surely as close as we can get to knowing exactly what it would have been like when he lived there. Most of the furniture and other items in the house belonged to the Roosevelt family, even if they were not actually in the house itself. 


The exhibit downstairs is a great place to explore after you've checked into the next tour. It mostly consists of quotes from Theodore and photographs of him and his family. However, they also have a handful of very neat artifacts including one of his Rough Riders uniforms and the shirt he was wearing when he was shot in an assassination attempt. There is additionally a little half hour film that is delightfully hokey about his boyhood and how he overcame his sickliness. 


Overall, this free museum is a great place to spend a few hours and learn more about one of the most interesting presidents this country has ever had. After going, I am currently looking into the best biography of Theodore Roosevelt to read! I highly recommend it to anyone living or visiting New York City. For more information, check out the museum's website
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