Films and shows about the tragic Princess of Wales are always so serious and self-important. With Netflix’s main award-winning royal biopic still raking in rave reviews and critical acclaim, and Kristen Stewart’s po-faced film Spencer about to hit screens (let’s not mention Naomi Watts’ disastrous effort), there’s been lots of snooty sniffing about this Broadway show. People should lighten up. It’s certainly not trying to break any new artistic or biographical ground. You know how lots of (American) TV shows throw in a bonkers musical episode? Well, this is like The Crown with cheesy dialogue, power ballads and big key changes. Oh yes, and a singing Barbara Cartland. It can absolutely only be taken with a gigantic pinch of salt and tongue firmly in cheek, but somehow, I rather think Diana would have loved it. And yes, off the record, I did actually meet her.
The show was supposed to open on Broadway last March but was derailed by the global pandemic and will now relaunch in November. With music and lyrics by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and an impressive Broadway cast and production team, it certainly has plenty of pedigree behind it.
The musical numbers are slick and the script by Joe DiPietro rattles through every major Charles and Di moment from an awkward proposal (with the dreaded line “whatever love is”) to the inevitable collapse of the marriage, framed by the ever-lurking presence of Camilla.
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Everyone raves about the penetrating insights offered by The Crown, but nobody actually knows what was said behind doors, so why not spice it up with some catchy rhymes like, “Stop being a martyr, why can’t you be smarter?” Or how about, “She was common, she was dim… a fairytale about to turn grim.”
To be clear, these are not Diana-bashing moments, they are spoken by Charles and the paparazzi.
The show is pretty even-handed, giving everyone a chance to air their dirty laundry, although I’m not sure if I am ever ready for The Queen breaking into song with her handbag slung over one arm. However, the arrival of James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan) topless on a saddle belting out rock opera high notes is gloriously ridiculous.
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Jenna de Waal is rather good as Diana, going from naive besotted teenager to betrayed wife and then emerging fighter. She has a great voice and there is clear emotion behind those big, down-turned eyes.
Her storyline is summed up as she cries, “They minimise your thoughts, they maximise your flaws… the trouble you can cause when you’re underestimated.”
We are shown Charles and Camilla in their very grown-up sensible love, plotting how to bring “malleable” Diana into the Firm. Neither are portrayed as villains, simply people who do not understand Diana at all and, yes, “underestimate” her.
Charles invites Diana to a staid cello recital when she’d rather see Dire Straights. She breaks into the rocktastic number This Is How Your People Dance and wishes he were “more like Freddie Mercury.”
There are touching moments when William and Harry are born but Diana realises it won’t save her marriage, a moving segment where she visits AIDS patients and then the public pugilism as she starts to fight back with the Andrew Morton book and series of headline-grabbing outfits and appearances.
We also get a fantasy face-off between the two women in Charles’s life with the chorus chanting “It’s the Thriller in Manilla but with Diana and Camilla.”
Sure, it’s superficial and tells us nothing new but, really what can any of those other films and TV series actually reveal that isn’t already out there? At least this whips by in two hours with some catchy tunes.
DIANA THE MUSICAL IS OUT NOW ON NETFLIX