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Diana—. the film of this Broadway musical about the reigning monarch's famous former daughter-in-law comes to Netflix before opening at the Longacre Theatre.
By Elyse Sommer
I'm not as fascinated with the Windsors as those for whom nothing about any of member of this royal corporation is too trivial or already familiar to read about or see on stage or screen. For me, it takes a great cast and an interestingly structured script to make yet another Windsor drama an instant must-see.
With Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth and the storyline focusing on one aspect of her job, ` The Audience was indeed intriguing. Happily, it delivered on its promise and was a highlight of my 2015 Broadway season as CurtainUp's chief critic. Another royal, Crown Prince Charles, inspired King Charles III, another smartly cast and imaginative new play that same season.
As for series about the royals for online watching, I admit that I binged my way through all four of its 10-episode seasons of The Crown which expanded The Audience. Like the many fans of this addictively watchable series, I'm eager to see the concluding season and will probably watch in two big digital gulps.
As the Queen was the pivotal character in both The Audience and The Crown, her former daughter-in-law Diana has become a beloved icon. The way her marriage to the future king ended up with the darkness of a Grimm fairy tale was bound to inspire more cultural coverage of her all too short life. And, if another royal story was ever going to be done as a Broadway musical, who better to be its star than the beloved crown princess who never got to be queen.
As the title makes clear the royal family is now singing and dancing. And and its central character is indeed the Princess of Wales .
The opening of the muh anticipated Diana would not have happened if it had'not been for the pandemic. However, since the show was just about to open officially when all theaters were closed, Director Christopher Ashley decided to capture one last preview performance on film. It would be a final chance for the suddenly unemployed actors to be on stage, but playing to an empty house.
For Netflix, this film was their latest chance to bring Broadway to their platform. Their making it available a month before it finally opens live at the Longacre Theatre is interesting but problematic. With so many other theaters opening their doors without the usual infulux of tourists to fill the seats and continuing nervousness about the Delta Variant, the competition for ticket buyers is keen. It stands to reason that those eager and ready to go back to the theater might prefer to spend their time and money on shows they haven't been able to see on their home screens.
However, the really big problem is that Diana isn't a very good show. The fact that many film critics didn't like it doesn't help.
That said, Diana isn't terrible. After all, a top drawer creative team is in charge of book, music and direction. Unfortunately, there's nothing really new in this well-known saga of a marriage that was doomed from the start. Despite some smart, lighter moments and peppy production numbers, most of these musicalized scenes from a famously dysfunctional royal marriage have the same seriousness as Ingmar Bergman's classic film.
The cast is fine and is well supported by an ensemble that impressively takes so many roles that it appears to be much larger. At one point they appear as paparazzi singing "Snap, Click" as they aim their cameras at Diana to convey their readiness to feed the public's Diana obsession.
There are plenty of peppy song and dance numbers like this, as well as enough replicas of dresses Diana actually wore. One of these has actualy been given its own song — "The Dress."
Jeanna de Waal's Diana, Roe Hartrampf's Charles, and Erin Davie's Camilla sing well. But not one of their solos and duets are truly rmemorable.
Ultimately the only thing I didn't know about Diana before was that sher favorite schoolgirl books were romance novels, especially those written by the prolific Barbara Cartland, who happened to become her step-grandmother when her mother remarried. And it's Judy Kaye's double role as the Queen and and Cartland who's this musical's real showstopper. She segues between queenly and outrageous. Her Queen's "An Officer's Wife", in which she sings about her own early married life, does give the show a breakthrough number.
Perhaps someone will write another Windsor musical, this one allowing Judy Kaye to expand on her dutiful Queen in charge of the Windsor's corporation and the Queen of romance novels. I hope so.
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Diana The Musical
Book: Joe DiPietro
Music: David Bryan
Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan
Director: Christopher Ashley
Choreographer: Kelly Devine
Cast principals: Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Judy Kaye as Queen Eliabeth and Barbara Cartland
Running Time: 117 minutes
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