M, 118 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
It’s easy to imagine Diana Spencer would have loved the idea of her life turned into a musical, if she could have had a different leading man. She loved to dance, maybe not waltzing around the floor with Charles, but with professional dancers like John Travolta and Wayne Sleep. She liked kicking up her heels, and in time she learnt to let a bit of dust fly into the eyes of the royal family while she was at it.
You might think that a life set to music, pop music of course, would capture something about the late, errant Princess of Wales who was so famously trapped by the royals, while freed up while among the people. Diana the Musical has, however, not turned out to be a good idea, and Diana may have also thought that Camilla Parker Bowles didn’t get the shellacking she deserved.
Who knows how she would have felt about this new version of her life? She might have gone along with the treatment she’s had in The Crown, with Emma Corin plausible in the role. And it’s not hard to imagine that both Elizabeth Debicki and Kristen Stewart, both terrific screen actors, will capture something of the princess in their versions. A new season of The Crown with Debicki is out soon and the movie Spencer with Stewart has already opened in the UK.
For Diana the Musical, the hair and makeup department has done its best to simulate the hair, but getting that right is only a small part of it. Jeanna de Waal who plays Diana is lovely but nothing like the late princess, either in long-shot or in close-up.
Roe Hartrampf and Erin Davie deliver good performances as Charles and Camilla, plotting to carry on once Diana is ensconced, while Judy Kaye alternates as a sturdy Queen Elizabeth and a daffy Barbara Cartland. As Diana’s step grandmother, Cartland, she appears in a diaphanous pink outfit and almost steals the show. If only the same could be said of de Waal as Diana.
Diana the Musical was due to open in New York but this fell through because of the pandemic, so the stage production was filmed and put out there as though it is a movie. As pre-publicity before the delayed opening takes place this December?
The script written by Joe DiPietro, who is a Tony award winner, is also a significant part of the problem. Beware, there are toe-curling moments that see Charles compared with ‘a third-rate Henry VIII’ and have Diana crooning ‘my ginger-haired son/always second to none’ to baby Harry in his cot. Then there’s the scene where Diana decides on wearing a ‘f**k-you dress’ the evening Charles was set to give a public admission on TV about his affair. The many clangers stay with you, well beyond the final credits.
Based on DiPietro’s book, which is not easy to track down online, and with a score by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, Diana the Musical doesn’t appear to shed new light or insight onto Diana’s story. The songs aren’t memorable, deadly for a musical and it’s like they have tried to make an American tale of it, trying to match US celebrity culture with a quintessentially English story. We’re all so over the Diana industry, anyway, aren’t we?
A filmed stage production masquerading as a movie, with a lead quite unlike the Princess, it is a travesty of what could have been
How did this travesty come about? It’s hard to imagine just what the producers thought they were doing here. Yet this musical has been produced by veterans of stage theatre, including director, Christopher Ashley who has also won a Tony, for the critically acclaimed and unusually staged 9/11 drama Come From Away. Of course, that was a stage play and not a film. The two mediums are so different.
The filmed stage production of the blockbuster musical Hamilton has also been streaming, and while it too lacks the fluidity of a real movie, it’s still a first-rate, exuberant entertainment compared to the cringe-worthy Diana musical.
Come to think of it, this isn’t a film review at all. It’s a review of a recorded theatre production that is yet to be staged in front of a live audience. It might be worth having a go at recording it again, when it goes live in front of an audience who have paid for their tickets, and comparing the results.