L.Logically, it makes perfect sense that Diana: The Musical exists. After all, Diana, Princess of Wales, lends herself extraordinarily well to musical theater. Hers was a story of wealth and betrayal, of high level and tragedy, and she also turned out to be a huge fan of the medium. If you build a time machine and use it to tell Diana that she would one day get her own Evita, she would be absolutely delighted.
However, Diana died a quarter of a century ago and you will never be able to see Diana: The Musical. Some people have all the luck.
Originally slated to debut on Broadway last year, Diana: The Musical only managed to slip away a handful of trailers before Covid shut everything down. And although it is scheduled to reopen next month, a version filmed without an audience was released today on Netflix. Why? Presumably the business model is that people will watch Diana: The Musical on TV, fall in love with her, and then buy tickets like crazy as soon as it reopens in theaters. It’s great.
Or it would be, if Diana: The Musical was really good. However, Diana: The Musical contains a song in which Diana is chased through the streets of London by members of the paparazzi who sing “Better than a Guinness, better than a handjob / Take some pictures, it’s money in the bank” by unbearable way. Cod-cockney accents, so I’m sure you’ll understand that “good” isn’t necessarily the first adjective you’d look for here.
What a genuinely strange piece of art this is. Written by Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, Diana: The Musical has the appearance of an intentional parody; a kind of springtime for Hitler for the readers of the Daily Express. You could put a pin on almost every song and draw a line that makes the entire effort feel like it was specifically created as a crazy joke on the world. My particular favorite is the moment when Diana looks into a crib and sings tenderly: “Harry, my redheaded son / You will always be second to none.” But others may prefer the part where the Queen sings a song about Prince Charles’s inability to keep it in his pants, or the song that seems to be called A Thriller in Manilla with Camilla.
Dame Barbara Cartland has a recurring role here, being carried on stage as a white delicacy on a bright pink divan. So does James Hewitt, arriving topless on the back of a pommel horse as the chorus line yells “Oh, James Hewitt!” and again. For most of its two-hour run, it’s very clear that Diana: The Musical just wants to be a cheeky game.
But it can’t be that, because you can’t tell the story of Princess Diana without including her ending. Fatal car accidents tend to suck the fun out of a room, so the musical is forced to turn toward something approaching Hamilton’s climax. Time slows down and Diana’s survivors try to make sense of what happened. But where Hamilton ended up with a shocking, unknowable gasp, this ends with something so hackneyed it might as well have been pulled from a Live Laugh Love website. I’d tell you what it is, but I don’t want to ruin the ending. But if I can’t screw up the ending, that means you have to go see Diana: The Musical instead. Sorry. I can not win
From a practical perspective, you can understand why the musical chose the Netflix route. This last year and a half has been a ruinous one for the stage, providing work and money for the crew and cast, all of whom, apart from a wildly flamboyant Welsh accent, are as good as they can with the material. act of benevolence. But the show itself is aggressively banana, and the lack of audience doesn’t help the company. With the right audience, there is a slim chance that Diana: The Musical could have been a band hit. But everyone here is projected into the void, which is why I found myself repeatedly questioning whether a line was a deliberate joke or just a clumsy piece of writing. That is not a great sign of success.
These past few months have shown that playing Princess Diana is a quick way to get some accolades. Emma Corrin became a household name when playing Diana in The Crown. Kristen Stewart is likely to be nominated for an Oscar for her lead role in Spencer. Sadly, however, Diana: The Musical seems destined to fall short of these accolades. It gives me no pleasure to tell you that it is no better than Guinness and considerably worse than a handjob.