DIANA THE MUSICAL - Longacre Theatre
If they can make a musical about Diana Spencer, aka the Princess of Wales, they can make a musical about anybody, I suppose. We all know the story from beginning to tragic end, and DIANA THE MUSICAL sticks, chronologically pretty much, to the headlines of her life, so the book doesn't break new ground. It packs the 2 hour 30 minute show with 24 songs (music and lyrics by David Bryan who scored better for the Tony-winning “Memphis”), none of which is memorable.
DIANA narrowly misses making its characters into cartoons. Diana, steadfastly played with professional aplomb by Jeanna De Waal, has impressive pipes. Her maturation at the Rubicons of her life- her “character arc” - is obvious, but, as observed, so is the storyline (book by Joe DiPetro who wrote “Memphis too”). There is nothing metaphoric in DIANA. There’s no shame in that really: DIANA doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. (If you want an eerily pretentious version of Diana’s torment, see Pablo Larrain’s film “Spencer” which turns Diana’s tribulations into a psychotic fantasia.)
Prince Charles (handsomely portrayed by Roe Hartrampf) is rather nice so he doesn’t come across as much of a shit, which many think of him. Still, his conspiracy with Camilla, his on-again-off-again (mostly on) true love, to find a young thing to marry and produce an heir is explicit. Camilla (matter-of-factly portrayed by Erin Davie) is amoral and cool: nothing wrong with having a lover on the side, nobles do, that’s just the way it is. It’s slightly bizarre that opposites Queen Elizabeth and romance novelist Barbara Cartland are played by the same actress, but veteran Judy Kaye seems to be having fun with the oddly dual roles.
DIANA has a few standout scenes. The direction keeps DIANA moving fast, as if to keep camp from creeping in. But DIANA giddily lets its guard down in the opening number of Act II, “Here Comes James Hewitt” where Diana’s horseman lover arrives, in saddle and bare chested. The verbal foreplay between him and Diana is so vulgar, it makes even Cartland’s prose look like Anais Nin’s. Commentary in song, “”Him and Her (& Him and Her)" that contrasts Charles/Camilla and Diana/ James is Cartland's. If there’s any genuine wit in DIANA, it’s briefly revealed here.
Another highlight of the second act is the fantasmagoric song, referred to in the program as "The Dress", but which sung on stage as "The Fuck-You Dress". Based upon the daringly dramatic black dress that a dazzling Diana wore to an opening at The Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park (the same night of Charles’s TV interview wherein he admitted his affair), it’s a stunning example that sometimes fact is better than fiction.
Genuine pathos emerges when Diana famously visits ths AIDS clinic in the plague’s early days, arguably the highpoint in her time as Princess. The scene is perfectly timed, and genuinely moving.
The worst feature of DIANA is the choreography; it has no vocabulary. The sight of a flank of reporters and paparazzi flailing their trenchcoats around like matador capes is rather ridiculous. The best feature of DIANA are the costumes by veteran William Ivey Long. The on-stage, blink-of-an-eye gown changes are jaw-dropping. The most elegant of Diana’s ensembles is for the final scene - a streamlined, white satin suit, pure as snow. As events in the last evening in Paris are delicately recalled, DIANA is bathed in a heavenly brightness. Once crowned a future queen, in DIANA, the once Princess of Wales becomes anointed saint.