Sunday, November 7, 2021

Diana: The Musical (Broadway)


Already in his mid-30’s and next in line to the British throne, Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) is prodded by his mother Queen Elizabeth II (Judy Kaye) to find a suitable wife. While already contented with his extra-marital relationship with his married lover Camilla (Erin Davie), the two scout for prospects and lay their eyes on Diana (Jeanna De Waal), the younger sister of Sarah Spencer (Holly Ann Butler) whom he dated for quite a while. Diana is a breath of fresh air for the monarchy. Primarily naive and clueless of royal protocol, her genuine personality easily wins the heart of the people to become their princess. As the pair get married, they try their best to make things work despite his continuing affair, but the birth of their two heirs doesn’t prove to be enough to turn the doomed marriage around. Hopeful but exhausted, Diana decides to take control of her life, manipulate the press, and attempt to live the way she sees fit in order to find her own happy ending. But will she?

There is no spoiler there for we already know how Lady Di’s short but colorful life ended in that Parisian tunnel in the late 90’s. Tragic as it might seem, this musical does not dwell much on that and just narrates it as some sort of epilogue while De Waal approaches the light backstage before disappearing behind the curtain, never to be seen again. At least not until after curtain call for her to make her curtsy and pay respect to the audience that gave her a standing ovation.

Diana: The Musical is perky. Perhaps that is the best adjective to describe it. Unlike the seemingly somber and serious tone The Crown and Spencer opted for, this musical is more tongue-and-cheek, rather irreverent, and somehow weird. Perhaps it has something to do with its very nature as a musical. The song and dance numbers have to be vivacious. The costumes need to be flashy. The dialogues must be attention-grabbing, the banter between Diana and Camilla, sassy. Maybe that’s where absurdity enters the picture. The creative license is taken advantage of, probably a little bit too much.

Lest we get it wrong, this is still based on real life as they claim. The thing is, this fascination with the British royal family seems to know no end, and with the plethora of onstage and onscreen, both big and small, reiterations of these same characters, the portrayals have already reached a point of saturation where you are no longer sure which is truly fact-based, and which remains imaginary. To the immediate family and historians who know the real-life counterparts more than we do, witnessing these characters, most of them still alive in real life, given a varying spin each time, must be weird AF.

How many Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys has Queen Elizabeth II won without having acted in front of a camera or a live audience? Seriously? If there is anyone who can match that brand of fascination from the general public, it should be no other than her late ex-daughter-in-law. Even more so now, when this musical is on Broadway while Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is playing in cinemas just a few blocks away. It makes you want to ask, what is so mesmerizing about royalty that it attracts that much attention?

Well, on this side of the pond based on the live audience reaction at Longacre Theater, it seems to be Diana’s fashion sense and her bitchy banter with her husband’s ex-mistress turned current wife. The gasps of excitement as Diana dons one Dior outfit right after another leading all the way to that infamous revenge dress are well audible. It just drove the crowd into a frenzy. “Pretty, Pretty Girl” sums up this reaction best, while numbers such as “This Is How Your People Dance” take artistic liberties to new heights.

All in all, I enjoyed the show, but not without that air of weirdness and slight absurdity that comes along while watching it. Has Harry seen this yet? I wonder how traumatizing and downright bizarre this must feel for him or for any other member of their family. But then again, it probably just comes with the territory. Or maybe this is meant to be a satire of sorts and we just weren't informed? Kudos to the cast for their evident dedication and vocal repertoire, though.

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