Diana: The Musical
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Music and Lyrics by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro
Starring: Jeanna De Waal, Erin Davie, Roe Hartrampf, Judy Kaye
The 2022 Golden Raspberry Awards, the awards show that airs a week before The Oscars, turned heads this year when it “awarded” Diana: The Musical five trophies out of nine nominations. One review from the Sydney Morning Herald “praised” the piece, saying that “musical theatre has finally dished up something that makes the 2019 film version of Cats look like a masterpiece.”
Riffing off of last week’s post, “Five Movies so Bad They’re Good,” I realized that I’d yet to see this recent entry into the category. After months of watching awards movies, I needed to go the opposite direction.
Charles has a problem: he’s the Prince of Wales and needs a bride before he ascends to the throne. He has a lover, Camilla Bowles, but she’s married. To appease the queen, Charles marries the first girl that swoons for him. Enter Diana Spencer, a naive kindergarten teacher. She gets swept up in the idea of a fairy-tale romance because she’s read 400 romance novels, all by the same author. She becomes a royal princess, complains that Charles likes opera rather than pop, gives birth to two differently aged children 10 minutes apart, and realizes that she’s an unwitting pawn in a storied family drama.
…Did this summary sound half normal, half concussion-induced insanity? Welcome to Diana: The Musical.
Sadly, this “movie” (really a filmed stage-musical performance) is best viewed as a 15 minute clip show—likely already on YouTube. The remaining 90 minutes is either too boring, confusing, or tasteless to recommend. The show’s fatal flaw is a lack of commitment to its vision. It wants to be both an over-the-top lampoon of the royal family and a sensitive portrayal of Diana’s troubles. A friend watching with me remarked that when the show lost its inhibitions, it became glorious camp. I have to agree, and the most enjoyable moments came from its delightful insanity.
I greatly preferred this aspect of the show to its serious side—mainly because there’s nothing left to say dramatically. The Crown, Spencer, and countless Netflix docs have dried the well on that chapter of the royal saga, so when Diana: The Musical tries to make a point about the stodginess of the British Crown, it comes off as tired at best.
The worst is when it tries to meld its stern and silly facets. In one scene, reenacting when Diana used her status to bring attention to the AIDS crisis, the desperate, dying patients mock her collar and dress—you know, because they’re gay! Caricature could come off funny if the audience knew the show was satire. Social justice could touch audiences’ hearts if they were expecting drama. The show itself doesn’t know which it is, tries to be both, and pleases no one.
—”Underestimated” The opening number where a wide-eyed princess Diana, the most well-loved woman in her country for over a decade, opines about how she defied the odds while having no support.
—”This is How your People Dance” Diana tries to make Charles hip with the times by playing a fiber-optic cello.
Choice lyric: “Maybe the prince could dance to Prince at a discotheque.”
—”Snap! Click!” Papparazzi in flasher trench coats dance and twirl in front of Charles and Diana, presumably taking blurry photos.
—”Here Comes James Hewitt” The actress who plays the Queen is double cast as a historical romance author whom Diana reads. She introduces one of Diana’s revenge flings, who enters in a Putin-esque shirtless pose.
—”The Main Event” Diana and Camilla descend to the basement of a townhouse and have a catfight while the chorus chants around them, making a boxing ring out of nearby tables.
Choice lyric: “It’s the thrilla in Manila with Diana and Camila!”
— “Feck you dress” If you watch one part of this musical, watch this song. Diana’s previously stoic butler becomes a flamboyant fashionista who helps her upstage the philandering prince.
—”The Servant’s Quartet” The royal servants break the fourth wall and blame the audience currently watching the show for Diana’s mental health problems.
—”An Officer’s Wife” The Queen tries to empathize with Diana’s situation, but the chorus randomly shouts exposition in the background.
Choice lyric: “…for a year, it was good to be an officer’s wife. AND THEN THE KING DIED!!!”