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  • Finian Hackett

Review: 'Diana' is royally dire

Diana: The Musical started life back in 2019 when it made its stage premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. After mixed reviews, the production underwent major changes before setting a Broadway opening date for March 31st 2020 but after only a handful of previews, the production was closed due to Covid. In the summer of 2020, the cast and crew reunited to record the show for wide release on Netflix ahead of its Broadway reopening. The show's director, Tony winner for Come From Away Christopher Ashley, took on the reigns for the Netflix production too.

I was always a bit baffled why out of every show Netflix could choose from, they chose this. Not Company? Not Girl from the North Country? Not literally anything else? Anyway, it was an odd decision from the start. Funnily enough, I nearly got tickets to the show when I was in New York but decided against it at the last minute (a blessing in disguise).

The show is based around the life of Princess Diana of Wales and her tumultuous relationship with the press and the Royals. Diana's life has been documented quite a lot over the last year or so with Emma Corrin portraying her in The Crown and Kristen Stewart set to take on her life in the film Spencer later this year. The life of the princess is still a touchy subject for many and something that many do not dare touch.

Diana starts off strong with a wonderful vocal performance from Jeanna de Waal, the British actress playing the title role. In fact, De Waal does a good job throughout and is an enjoyable performer on stage. Groundbreaking? No. But that's mainly due to the material given. Two time Tony winner Judy Kaye joins her in a dual role as both Queen Elizabeth II and writer Barbara Cartland. Kaye is loveable on stage and is a true musical legend however I feel like she's been forced into this contract because even she can't make it work. The standout performance for me was from Erin Davie, a Drama Desk nominee for Side Show, who played a pretty bitchy Camilla Parker Bowles. I've never seen her perform anything before so was pleasantly surprised at how great she was. Definitely a performer who needs to be given bigger (and better) roles.

One major positive (before I get too negative) was the production design. The lighting design by multi-Tony Award-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and set design by David Zinn were two of the productions saving graces and where my eyes were drawn to a lot of the time. Another positive feature was the mind-boggling costume changes. Now I don't know if there was a little bit of editing going on to make it look smoother than it was but there were two or three incredibly fast changes and I am a sucker for a good quick change.

The plot as a whole was extremely simplified with it mainly becoming about the love triangle between Camilla, Diana and Charles which got very boring after about two scenes. The underdone book is written by Joe DiPietro. The Tony Award-winning Joe DiPietro. I could've written a better script. I think anyone could've. The same goes for the score which, being harsh, is one of the worst I've heard. With music and lyrics by Bon Jovi member David Bryan and Joe DiPietro you'd think you'd have a hit, right? Wrong. Not one song is memorable with every melody sounding just as mundane as the next. The lyrics are even worse. 'Better than a Guinness. better than a wank', 'Serves me right for marrying a Scorpio' and 'A pretty pretty girl in a pretty pretty dress' are all genuine lyrics from the show. I know.

My favourite part however was when a topless James Hewitt rises up through the centre of the stage riding some rodeo horse thing. It's just as weird as it sounds.

Sitting just under 2 hours, it's a long slog however the show is still slightly entertaining be it all for the wrong reasons. The sensitive subject of Diana's life is mishandled in a way that it comes across as satire. If it was sold as that, this would get a 5-star review but it's not. It's being sold as a serious Broadway musical and is charging ridiculous prices when it reopens next month. Although, I do think we have found a new hate-watch classic that in year's to come will be everyone's guilty pleasure.


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