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Six the musical: From a bedroom to Broadway (almost)

By Christian Hewgill
Newsbeat reporter

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
image captionEven by 2020 standards, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss have been on quite the journey

From humble beginnings in a uni bedroom to the bright lights of Broadway, the story of Six is every writer's dream.

But Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow's musical, which turns Henry VIII's wives into Beyonce and Ariana-style divas, was pulled just hours before its New York debut because of Covid-19.

However it will soon lead the charge in the theatre industry's fight-back against coronavirus.

Even by 2020 standards, 25-year-old Toby and Lucy, 26, have been on quite the journey.

As they chat to Radio 1 Newsbeat on stage at London's Lyric Theatre, they are surrounded by boxes being unloaded as the show moves in.

Six will be one of the first West End musicals to resume, with limited numbers, in November after the theatre industry was effectively shut down because of the pandemic.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionNot many university projects end up at global award ceremonies such as the Oliviers

"Six started as a kind of fun university project," Toby says. "We were at Cambridge together and the musical theatre society wanted to take an original show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

"So we applied to write it and then put on this student production for one month back in 2017."

The show caught the attention of West End producers who asked the pair if they'd be interested in doing it professionally.

Six was praised for modernising a historic tale and became a global success, even making it to Broadway (well, almost, but we'll get to that).

media captionBehind the scenes at the Arts Theatre in London to meet the sassy women in King Henry VIII's life

For Toby, it all took a while to sink in.

"It was pretty overwhelming, cool, amazing, it was, well . . . a lot!

"It was one of those things where you only realise what it meant, what it felt like, once it's gone in a way."

Sadly, it did all go, at least temporarily. That pesky pandemic meant the sassy Six was shelved.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionYaaas queens - a note stuck to the theatre door ahead of Six's return

"It was literally our opening night on Broadway when the theatres closed because of the pandemic," Lucy says.

"We'd been in New York, we'd had a month of previews. It was really cool.

"It was also in Australia, it was on cruises, it was in the West End and on a UK tour, and it was so, so close to opening on Broadway."

So close yet so far to a Broadway debut for the young writers.

The chances are their time will come but for now their focus is getting the musical back up and running in London and Salford.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe queens will hit Manchester Lyric Theatre two weeks after they return to the West End's Lyric, on Shaftesbury Avenue, on 14 November

"It's been heart-breaking over the last six months watching everyone in our industry freaking out about not having work and finding it really hard," Lucy tells Newsbeat.

"It's the most exciting part about it for us, being able to have people working again.

"We felt responsibility and a huge desire to try and help as much as we could."

'Really scary'

The capacity at the Lyric in London will be heavily reduced to allow for distancing.

Seating will be moved around depending on the size of groups booking, there'll be temperature checks for staff and the audience, plus a host of other safety measures.

"It's obviously unbelievably exciting," Lucy says. "But also really scary and nerve-racking because we had a drive-in theatre tour get shut down, so anything can change at any moment.

"The priority is keeping everyone safe, audiences and staff. So there's a little trepidation but honestly it feels really exciting to be able to get one hundred people employed across the Salford and London production and bring people back into theatres again."

Toby, like Lucy, says his main focus is seeing the industry return to as close to normal as possible.

"One hundred people is miniscule in comparison to the vast numbers of creatives in all industries and sectors that are out of work at the moment and can't get money," he says.

"So it feels amazing, but it's going feel even more so when all the other theatres can join us."

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  • Six wives, one Olivier Award-nominated show