Headshot of Gabriela Carrillo in blue shirt, wearing a necklace.
Gabriela Carrillo Credit: Courtesy Broadway in Chicago

An all-new cast of queens begins its reign in Chicago with the return of Six, the musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss that transforms the famous wives of King Henry VIII into pop stars. The hit show from the UK had its North American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2019, opened on Broadway in 2021, and launched its first North American tour at Broadway in Chicago’s CIBC Theatre this week, where it plays through July 3. 

Gabriela Carrillo, who was raised in the Chicago suburbs of Palos Park and Palatine, plays the role of Catherine Parr, the sixth and final queen (or the one who “survived,” per the popular mnemonic device). With a background in both pop music and theater, Carrillo considers it her “dream role” to star in this pop musical and is thrilled to open the tour in Chicago, making a “full circle” return to the city where she got her start as a performer.

Through 7/3: Tue 7:30 PM, Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; Sun 4/3 and 4/10, 2 and 7:30 PM; Wed 4/6, 7:30 PM only; CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, 800-775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com, $35.50-$175.50.

Carrillo has connected with her character in several meaningful ways, beginning with the fact that both are writers. “[Parr] was the first English queen to publish a book under her own name, historically,” she elaborates. As a songwriter, Carrillo relates to this aspect of her character, also noting that she and Parr both tend to be “analyzers.” 

“It’s not always that you get to have much in common with characters, and that’s OK, because that leads you through a journey of being able to find ways to relate to them. But there are a lot of parts of me that are very Catherine Parr.”

“I think [Parr] leads with heart and integrity,” Carrillo adds. “That’s a parallel to something that I’ve done in my life, when I wanted to get into the pop music game—questioning if I was really leading with my morals, leading with my heart, and with what I felt was right.”

Carrillo first performed in a musical at her elementary school and later begged her parents to let her audition for a community theater production of Annie at Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center in Palatine. Her supportive parents helped her prepare for the audition, although Carrillo later learned that her father, who is an immigrant from Mexico, had wondered whether the theater would cast a Mexican American girl as Annie, the famously red-haired orphan. Fortunately, she got the role and soon went on to perform in her first professional theater production at American Girl Theater in downtown Chicago. (The venue, located in the basement of the American Girl Michigan Avenue store, ran musicals based on characters in the popular line of dolls; it closed in 2008.)

While attending high school at Woodlands Academy in Lake Forest, Carrillo explored a range of artistic pursuits—orchestra, choir, plays, musicals, and even directing an a cappella group. She also discovered a love of songwriting and would spend hours writing music in a practice room at the school. “Something just lit up within me,” she recalls of her early days as a songwriter. “There was this voice inside me that was saying, ‘This is what you need to do.’”

This newfound calling led her to Berklee College of Music, where she studied songwriting and vocal performance with a minor in drama. “I always knew that I wanted to keep theater and acting in there,” Carrillo says, “but I really had a passion—and have a passion—for songwriting and for pop music. My dream for a long time was to be a pop star.” She began to release original music during college and moved to Los Angeles after graduation to pursue a career in pop music. 

Although she formed fulfilling professional relationships in LA and “made some music that I’m so proud of,” she began to have doubts after learning more about what it would take to become a pop star. “A lot of it didn’t have to do with the music that I wrote or my talent,” says Carrillo. A lot of it had to do with . . . putting out music that didn’t feel like it lined up with my integrity.”

“I started to really question, ‘Am I willing to jeopardize my integrity and my artistry, for what—fame? Is that really all that I am looking for?’ And I realized that it wasn’t,” she recalls. Still wanting “to entertain people and share my voice,” Carrillo returned to theater. “Once I started booking theater jobs . . . I remembered why I had loved it so much when I was younger, and it just ignited this passion and this joy inside of me.”

Then, along came an audition notice for Six, a show that exuberantly crosses the genres of theater and pop music. “It’s pretty much the dream role that my younger self could have thought of for me,” says Carrillo. However, it would be an agonizingly long wait before this dream came true. After her video audition and initial callback in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down theaters across the country, including at Disneyland, where she had just debuted as Elsa in Frozen.

“I was just praying the whole pandemic that they wouldn’t forget about me and that I would still have this opportunity, because it really was one of the lights at the end of the tunnel,” Carrillo recalls. Finally, she heard back from the Six team as theaters began to reopen in 2021. After more Zoom meetings and in-person auditions in Chicago and New York, she was cast as Catherine Parr.

When she called her parents to tell them she would be playing Parr, “we were just giddy,” Carrillo says. “They might have been more eager to hear back than me, because they have really supported me through the journey of being an entertainer.”

An active vlogger, Carrillo is documenting her Six journey on her YouTube channel, under the username “Gabriela Carrillo,” where she shares a behind-the-scenes look at the daily life of a touring actor.

Opening the Six tour in Chicago, where her parents, high school friends, and even several of her elementary school teachers will see her perform, “means everything” to Carrillo. “I have dreamt of doing a show in Chicago since I left when I was 17,” she says. “I missed Chicago, and I wanted to find a way to get back and perform there.” 

As for the audiences who come to see Six, “I hope that their spirits are lifted and they leave with a sense of joy,” says Carrillo. “I also hope they leave with the desire to reframe certain narratives that they’ve been told about their lives . . .  and to lift each other up—especially young women,” she adds. “Lifting each other up instead of pitting women against each other—I think that’s a wonderful message of the show.”