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December 06th, 2021

diana musical spotlight pageJeanna de Waal as Lady Diana Spencer in a scene from the recently released “Diana” musical on Netflix. Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The life of Lady Diana Spencer has always been interesting to me  not only because of what she went through as a member of the British royal family, but also because of everything she was able to accomplish before her sudden death. So when I heard some time ago about there being a Broadway musical about her life, I wasn’t quite how to feel about it – on one hand, I thought it was somewhat vulgar to do a biographical musical about someone whose death is still quite fresh in the minds of family and friends. But on the other hand, biographical Broadway musicals have been a bit of a rage lately (thanks to “Hamilton,” “The Cher Show,” and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” among others), so why wouldn’t this turn out well?

Netflix released a pro shot of the yet-to-open “Diana” Broadway musical Oct. 1, and I decided to see for myself whether it would be decent or a complete misfire. As it would turn out, there was some of both throughout the show, which follows Lady Diana (Jeanna de Waal) from her first meeting with Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) through her divorce and death. Also talked about in the show are her affair with James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan) and her work with AIDS  and cancer patients. 

One of the few aspects the show ultimately ended up getting right was the costuming, which was done very well by William Ivey Long. Much like when I watched Elton John’s “Rocketman” biopic, I have to wonder how much time and sweat and labor went into creating some of Diana’s most well-known fashion looks, because every costume is quite stunning and looks great on leading lady Jeanna de Waal, particularly the black cocktail “revenge” dress (dubbed in the show as Diana’s F-you dress). I was also left rather stunned with some of the quick changes done in the show, and I would like to very much know how they were able to be accomplished, because they are done in literally a snap. The only complaint I would have about the costuming is de Waal’s Diana wigs, because they look EXTREMELY cheap and unflattering, so I feel like more effort could have been done there. 

Another one of the few aspects the show gets right is the casting. Jeanna de Waal has a lovely voice and great acting chops in the lead role, and she’s able to showcase pretty much every emotion under the sun during her songs. Roe Hartrampf is also very good as Prince Charles – in fact, he was so good at being a prissy jerk that I wanted to punch him in his smarmy face. Erin Davie also deserves praise as Charles’ mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles, she gives a very good performance, as does Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth II, though unfortunately, neither of them is used in the show like they deserve. I also thought the ensemble did a great job, and I liked how they were used as kind of a Greek chorus for the show. 

Though the cast is great, the writing for this show needed (or needs, since it hasn’t hit Broadway yet) some MAJOR help. The script for the speaking parts is downright amateurish, and the lyrics to the songs (with only a few exceptions) are no better, with such great hits as "He has gone where few men tread/James Hewitt, James Hewitt/He did do it/In our princess's bed,” among too many others to mention here. I honestly can’t believe a professional lyricist actually took credit for this, because not only are the lyrics themselves just terribly written, but the same rather novice rhyming scheme is used throughout the entire 2-hour show – it’s okay to have something like that pop up occasionally in a show, but when it happens with EVERY SONG, the appeal is lost quite quickly and makes the show seem like something written by elementary age music students. For me, it was almost like the people in charge of the lyrics, while writing them, kept telling each other “Remember, it all has to RHYME!!”

The show also doesn’t really give us much more insight into Lady Diana’s feelings than what has already been said on record, and I feel like the producers and writers could have taken a more mature approach while working on the show so viewers could get more of that insight. It worked with “Hamilton,” so I feel like it would have definitely worked with “Diana.”

Overall, for me, the “Diana” musical was a mixed bag for me, and I would give it an overall “C” grade. The costuming is outstanding (and I wouldn’t be surprised of a Tony nomination for at least that aspect), and the cast is great, with all the main actors turning in great performances, particularly Jeanna de Waal as the show’s leading lady. However, the music and lyrics and other writing leave something to be desired, and there didn’t really seem to be much thought put toward the show’s structure, which I felt should have been much tighter. If this show doesn’t want to end up as a joke along the same lines as “Cats,” the producers have some MAJOR upgrades to make before the show debuts on Broadway. 

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