Diana: The Musical review – a right royal debacle so bad you’ll hyperventilate

UNnd … so … it’s … springtime for glamour and victimhood, winter for Windsors and Charles. Netflix have now given us the filmed version of the entirely gobsmacking and jawdropping Broadway show Diana: The Musical, shot at the Longacre theatre on West 48th Street last summer with no audience while the show itself was on pause due to the Covid pandemic. And while you’re waiting for Pablo Larraín’s movie Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, this will have to do. Although there is a danger it will cause you to hyperventilate.

Not since the Cats movie have I literally shouted from my seat: "Che cosa? What? WHAT?” Only by having Diana ride on stage on the back of a Jellicle cat could this be more bizarre. If it was deliberate satire it would be genius, but it’s not. It’s a saucer-eyed retelling of the life of Diana, Principessa del Galles, with bobbing chorus lines of footmen and flunkies who with a costume change morph into step-in-time phalanxes of snarling tabloid hacks, while Diana solemnly warbles downstage about her loneliness and determination in a pool of follow spotlight.

The director is Christopher Ashley of the La Jolla Playhouse, e il (bizarre) book, music and lyrics are by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, famed for the hit show Memphis. Diana is played by British-born musical theatre star Jeanna de Waal, who looks eerily like Tina Brown channelling Victoria Wood. Erin Davies is Camilla Parker Bowles; Roe Hartrampf is pompous Charles and Broadway veteran Judy Kaye has a double role as the Queen and also Diana’s step-grandmother, the chiffon-clad romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, the one character who does at least supply a bit of intentional comedy.

Aside from Mel Brooks’s classic fictional stage creation about the Third Reich, the imaginary musical that this most resembles is the sub-Lloyd Webber extravaganza Elephant!, about the Elephant Man, in Richard Curtis’s comedy The Tall Guy, with its quirky chorus line of elephants and their perky trunks. It’s another study of terrible loneliness. We begin with single girl Diana bemused by Charles’s interest in her and confiding in her older sister Sarah, who has herself dated the Prince of Wales. She tells Diana that she would be a good match for Charles: “Against all odds, you’re still a virgin!"

The lines of dialogue only get more deathless from there on in. Taken by the pompous and stuffy Charles to a cello recital by Mstislav Rostropovich, Diana sings: “The Russian plays on and on / Like an endless telethon / How I wish he were Elton John!" (“Telethon”? Veramente?) Charles and Diana begin their relationship to a background of press intrusion and royal sneering, while Charles keeps on seeing the worldly Camilla Parker Bowles. But soon Diana is pregnant with her first child, which results in Hartrampf’s Charles singing: “Darling, I’m holding our son / So let me say jolly well done!"

My own personal nervous breakdown approached when Diana’s second child is born, and she sings the following lines into his cot: “Harry, my ginger-haired son / You’ll always be second to none!” And I succumbed to complete gibbering collapse when Charles erupts in rage at Diana’s on-stage dance routine with Wayne Sleep, demanding changes to her behaviour: “How about for a start / Don’t act like a TART … Diana!"

Nel frattempo, the common folk are drawn from something other than life. When Charles and Diana have to meet “people” from a place called “Wales”, these commoners are smudgy-faced, overgrown urchins. Later on, Diana meets some Aids patients, and they at least are shown far more respectfully. When Diana and Camilla icily confront each other, it is at a posh and stuffy fashionable party, with people sneerily singing: “Nights like this, I envy the poor / Their parties can’t possibly be such a bore.” Again, some intentional satire would be nice.

This is a Rocky Horror Picture Show of cluelessness and misjudged Judy Garlandification. I can imagine masochists getting together for Diana: The Musical parties, just to sing the most nightmarish lines along with the cast. The rest of us will need a long lie down.

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