All that glitters — the costumes fit for a queen in the musical 'Six'

British costume designer Gabriella Slade won a Tony Award in 2022 for her work.

SHARE All that glitters — the costumes fit for a queen in the musical 'Six'
Kearney Starr, wardrobe department head for the touring production of "Six," presents the costumes for the six wives of Henry VIII in the musical now playing at The Nederlander Theater in the Loop.

Kearney Starr, wardrobe department head for the touring production of “Six,” presents the costumes for the wives of Henry VIII in the musical now playing at The Nederlander Theater in the Loop.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It starts with an undergarment that perhaps only a Mother Superior could love.

Then a petticoat stiffened with hoops of bent wood. An under gown comes next, then a “false” petticoat and a velvet gown — all held in place with pins and stitches of silk ribbon.

Move too suddenly or bend the wrong way, and you’re in danger of unraveling, impaling yourself.

One saving grace: squared-toed flats for shoes.

Not exactly the ideal get-up for a Broadway show that features 80 minutes of non-stop hip-thrusting, belly-jiggling, fist-pumping dance numbers.

When: Through July 14

Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph

Tickets: $39 - $134

Info: broadwayinchicago.com

Run time: 80 minutes, no intermission

But somehow British costume designer Gabriella Slade has transformed 16th-century Tudor fashion into something, well, exceptionally cool.

In “Six,” a 21st-century take on the story of Henry VIII’s wives — in case you’d forgotten: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived — the queens bristle into “modern pop-punk warrior versions,” says Kearney Starr, the wardrobe supervisor for the show, which is playing through July 14 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in the Loop.

A closeup look at the costume for Anne Boleyn from "Six."

A closeup look at the costume for Anne Boleyn from “Six.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Each queen becomes a synthesis of the Tudor figure and a modern pop “queen,” including Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Adele and Shakira.

Gone are the historically meticulous linen smocks, heavy velvet gowns decorated with pearls and rubies. In their place: thousands of silver studs, gold spikes, “pleather,” fishnet stockings, colored see-through vinyl — but still retaining numerous Tudor references.

In the labyrinthine basement of the Nederlander last week, Starr offered a close-up look at the costumes. Interestingly, each of the actors playing the queens has only one costume; hence the need for someone like Starr.

Actor Aryn Bohannon has been with "Six" for two years and is the dance captain and an alternate who has played queens Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard in the show.

Actor Aryn Bohannon has been with “Six” for two years and is the dance captain and an alternate who has played queens Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard in the show.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“My job on the road is to make everything look like it did on day one,” she says.

Even without the stage lights, the costumes shimmer and sparkle — perhaps none more so than that belonging to Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, who famously — some might say stubbornly — refused to accept Henry’s efforts to declare their marriage invalid.

As the Spanish queen of queens here, her costume is ablaze in gold (think Beyonce’s 2017 Grammy gown and crown). Aragon’s character wears an armored doublet — or wide-shouldered waistcoat — its flared bottom made of a rigid plastic. Slade has said she was, in part, going for a “Catholic Church ornamental vibe.”

Thin steel “bones” in some of the costumes replace the whale baleen that would have been used in the 1500s.

The costume for Catherine of Aragon from the stage musical "Six."

The costume for Catherine of Aragon from the stage musical “Six.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

To get the look of her creations just right, Slade, who won a Tony in 2022 for her “Six” costume designs, researched Tudor architecture, stained-glass windows and portraits (very little original clothing remains from the period).

In the show’s early run — it opened in 2019 in the U.S. at Chicago Shakespeare Theater — each performer had to travel to New York to be fitted. From start to finish, it can take eight weeks or longer to complete a costume, Starr said.

Slade intended for the costumes to be empowering, liberating. But in one sense, they’re similar to their 500-year-old originals — they’re not particularly comfortable.

Theater, it turns out, is not all illusion.

“They are hard plastic. A lot of them are built like corsets on the inside ...,” Starr said. “Because of the nature of vinyl, as they wear them, their body heat sort of morphs (the vinyl) around them so they do get more comfortable, but I would not call them comfortable in any way.”

The costumes worn during the state musical "Six" include these character-specific earrings.

The costumes worn during the state musical “Six” include these character-specific earrings.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The actor who plays Aragon rehearses in a 10-pound vest to build up stamina for the role, Starr said.

Aryn Bohannon has been with the show for two years and is the dance captain and an alternate who has played Boleyn, Seymour and Howard. She said the costumes, combined with the high intensity dancing, the singing and acting, make the show kind of a “perfect storm.”

“The first time you put [a costume] on it’s a little daunting because it’s heavy, it’s cinching you in places you’re not used to being cinched with modern clothing. There’s a lot of dancing and breathing techniques that come along with up-keeping the show for yourself,” Bohannon said.

Seeing all that vinyl, the fishnets, silver studs and rhinestones, it makes you wonder what their Royal Highnesses would have made of it.

“The idea of seeing an ankle, let alone a knee, would have been crazy to them,” Starr said. “They’d all faint.”

The "Six" costume for Anne of Cleves hangs in a dressing room at the Nederlander Theater in the Loop.

The “Six” costume for Anne of Cleves hangs in a dressing room at the Nederlander Theater in the Loop.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Boots help complete the look for the costumes worn by the performers starring in "Six" at the Nederlander Theater.

Boots help complete the look for the costumes worn by the performers starring in “Six” at the Nederlander Theater.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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