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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

‘Diana: The Musical’ is a royal mess 

Claire Kirner | The Observer

The British Royal Family has had a rough few years. Between “The Crown,” Prince Andrew’s sexual assault scandal and Meghan Markle’s explosive Oprah interview, the centuries-old institution has faced a seemingly unceasing barrage of PR disasters. Well, the monarchy should clear their schedules for one more fiasco. Enter “Diana: The Musical.” Initially scheduled to open on Broadway in March 2020 before being delayed by the pandemic, a professional recording of the stage show was released on Netflix in early October. 

“Diana: The Musical” stumbles from the beginning. Opening on a young Diana Spencer during one of her earliest encounters with Prince Charles, the audience sympathizes with the naive 19-year-old kindergarten teacher alone in the spotlight (literally). Diana is portrayed as the girl-next-door, whose depth of character serves as stark contrast to the selfish arrogance of those around her.  In some ways, this choice makes sense. Princess Diana was, after all, “the people’s princess.” However, “Diana: The Musical” seems to forget the crucial distinction — she was always a princess and never actually one of the people. Despite what the musical tries to portray, Diana Spencer was a member of nobility well before she even met Prince Charles. To present Diana as a lowly commoner is inaccurate and perfectly exemplifies how the production romanticizes her story. “Diana: The Musical” is an attempt to create an uplifting tale about finding one’s self with dashes of girl-boss variety feminism thrown in. In reality, Princess Diana struggled through a difficult marriage as part of a manipulative and outdated institution before coming to a tragic end. The musical, then, is an inaccurate historical account which by glorifying Diana, trivializes her and fails to do her story justice. 

“Diana: The Musical” fails not only because it’s poorly written and utterly bizarre (a particular highlight is a shirtless James Hewitt offering to give Diana “riding lessons”), but because it ultimately can’t decide what it wants to be. At times, it almost seems like the musical is dripping with irony. Perhaps its ridiculousness is an attempt at poking fun at the British Royal Family and all those who surround them. But then the show makes another painful attempt at sincerity (we see the Queen lamenting her lost youth as she hopes to “rediscover who she once was”) and it becomes clear that there is no deeper meaning at all. 

If the musical has a high point, it’s the depiction of the British press. Notoriously predatory, British tabloid culture plays an outsized role in Diana’s story and the musical reflects this. “Diana: The Musical” manages to convey the invasive nature of the press while also highlighting the ways Diana herself used the media to further her cause. Further to this, sometimes it seems like the talents of the actors might be enough to offset the painful material. Jeanna de Waal’s Diana and Roe Hartrampf’s Charles, are believable and their performances are a real highlight. But then Diana delivers a line like “serves me right for marrying a Scorpio” and it’s clear that even the most talented of performers would struggle with this script. Even the ending fails to make an impact. A story about Princess Diana is inherently tragic. No adaptation, no matter how optimistic, can ignore her death. “Diana: The Musical” attempts to get around this by concluding with a song about changing the world, though the song falls a little flat with lyrics like “the people who will change the world are not the people who you think will change the world.” Normally, an overly dramatic scene or two can be excused if they’re fun to watch. “Diana: The Musical” fails in this regard, leaving the audience unsatisfied and disappointed.

“Diana: The Musical” tries to do so much and fails to make a lasting impact. Lacking nuance and suffering from an excess of drama, “Diana” is a poor retelling of the story that rocked a nation 40 years ago and continues to find relevancy today. 


Title: “Diana: The Musical”

Starring: Jeanna de Waal, Erin Davie, Roe Hartrampf 

Director(s): Christopher Ashley

If you like: “Rocketman,” “Yesterday”

Shamrocks: 1 out of 5