By Janie Walenda
There is no shortage of dramatizations of Princess Diana’s life. “The Crown” introduced her in its most recent season to great success, and “Spencer” was lauded by critics when it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in early September. Diana’s story remains one of the most intriguing and complex of the 20th century, and sadly, “Diana: The Musical” waters it down to nearly nothing.
To start, the music is just bad. There’s no rhythm to the lyrics, and it oftentimes feels like they simply added music over spoken lines. The rhymes are too frequent, often feeling forced. Ultimately, “Diana: The Musical” doesn’t understand the function of musical numbers in the show, oversaturating its story with twenty-three generic, indistinguishable songs.
Meanwhile, the script is just as stuffed and surface-level as the songs. It honestly feels like reading a Wikipedia article. Joe DiPietro, who wrote the script and the lyrics, tries to tell Diana’s entire life story in two hours, resulting in uneven pacing and rushed emotional story arcs. A few plot points are left dangling. For example, early in the musical Diana’s motivation for making her marriage work is that her mother got divorced when she was little, and she doesn’t want to put her boys through the same thing. This point is never brought up in act two as her marriage disintegrates and ends in divorce. Additionally, “Diana: The Musical” grossly mishandles the sensitive storyline. This is a complicated story about real people, but the show feels like a soap opera.
Uneven pacing and rushed story arcs result in “Diana: The Musical” feeling more like a soap opera than a real-life story.
As for the actors, they do a good enough job portraying the roles they’ve been given. However, none of them manage to elevate their characters above caricature. Judy Kaye, playing Queen Elizabeth II and Barbara Cartland, comes closest but is ultimately sabotaged by her own solo. “An Officer’s Wife” really has no place in the show, as the Queen has had no character development up to this point. It’s only there because Judy Kaye is the most famous member of the cast.
For all of its faults, the technical design of “Diana: The Musical” is amazing. The costumes may be the most historically accurate part of the show, as most of them match the outfits worn by the real Diana. I’m always a sucker for quick-change magic, and this show has plenty of seamless transitions. The lighting design is so good, I’m hoping it wins the 2022 Tony in that category. During the aforementioned “An Officer’s Wife,” the lighting on the ensemble in the background was the highlight of the scene. The use of the light to mimic photographers was extremely effective and almost saved the ending for me.
It remains to be seen whether the release of this recording will affect the ticket sales of “Diana: The Musical.” I have a feeling that no one will be willing to cough up the $49-$199 necessary to see the show in person. This will just add more credibility to critics’ claims that proshots damage a show’s profit. In reality, if “Diana: The Musical” fails on Broadway, it won’t be because it had a proshot: it’ll be because it is fundamentally a bad show.
It’s incredibly frustrating that just as musicals are gaining mainstream respect, shows like this have reminded audiences of all of the medium’s flaws. Musical theatre has long been criticized for being campy, awkward, and shallow. While much of musical theatre is currently moving away from that stereotype, there’s always at least one new show a year that reinforces it. It doesn’t help that a show like “Come From Away” is hidden away on Apple TV+, while “Diana: The Musical” is much more accessible on Netflix. For all the progress that has been made in the past year towards making theatre accessible, high-profile misfires like “Diana: The Musical” leave the future of proshots and movie musicals uncertain.
The worst part of “Diana: The Musical” is that it should’ve been good. Highly stylized musicals about historical figures can and do work; just look at “Hamilton” or “Evita.” Neither is completely historically accurate, but both earn their dramatization of events through clever storytelling and songs. Without the historical backdrop, “Diana” might have been an enjoyable guilty pleasure, but because it’s about real people and events, the show feels insensitive and cartoonish. An amazing musical about Princess Diana could certainly exist, but this is not it.
The proshot of “Diana: The Musical” is now streaming on Netflix.
Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys musicals, movies and rereading the same books ten times.