Flashbulbs fill the air is the cryptic and fate-predicting first line sung by Princess Diana (played by Jeanna de Waal) in the opening number of Diana: The Musical, which is now streaming on Netflix with a COVID-delayed Broadway debut that’s soon to follow. (The stage version officially opens on November 17.) The scene is poignant and powerful, especially with de Waal—whose voice is lovely, btw—dressed all in white and as flash bulbs (the marker of an increasingly aggressive press) flicker all around. But it’s also the kick-off to a story that, at this point, is rather familiar.
Cue The Crown, the trailers from the upcoming Spencer film, even just our general obsession with the royals (guilty!) and Diana is everywhere as of late. That puts extra pressure on yet another retelling—this one in musical form—of her life.
The show begins with a young Diana Spencer meeting a rather dashing version of Prince Charles (played by Roe Hartrampf), who is immediately instructed by his mum the queen to get serious already about his future and settle down. Enter Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie) from stage right—literally, she’s present from the very first song—and the rest is royal history. In fact, the show covers so much territory, I found myself struggling to keep up as it moved from courtship to marriage to the births of William and Harry, then ultimately ending with Diana and Charles’ divorce just ahead of her death.
That’s where the costumes come in. For Diana, there are 34 in total, which is actually kind of breathtaking given the show is just under two hours long. Still, they help anchor the viewer and make it easier to keep tabs on the timeline—there’s the David and Elizabeth Emanuel wedding gown, the sheep sweater, the revenge dress. (In one number, called “Pretty, Pretty Girl,” about how Diana wielded fashion as power, Diana changes six times. Wow.)
But I can’t tell if it’s the Netflix treatment or the fact that the show moves through moments both private (her bold and confident confrontation with Camilla at a party—a great scene) and poignant (like when, glove-free, Diana shakes hands with AIDS patients) a bit too fast? I found myself experiencing a bit of whiplash trying to keep up with a royal narrative I know far too well.
That said, it’s a glittering tale—and one that’s certainly splashy enough for the Broadway stage. Also unique is the effort made to show the plight of the Wales’s from so many different points of view (Camilla included). And I love the soap opera-y arrival of James Hewitt (played by Gareth Keegan).
Bottom line: In what feels like the season of Diana, this production is definitely a must-watch. Will I check it out on Broadway when the show opens? Yes, please.
PureWow Rating: 3 Stars
If you can’t get enough of Princess Diana, you won’t want to miss this show. But some of her charm is lost by the speed of the production—and the inevitable comparisons to so many other Diana performances as of late.
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