06th Oct2021

‘Diana: The Musical’ Review (Netflix)

by Rhys Payne

Stars: Roe Hartrampf, Judy Kaye, Jenna de Waal, Bruce Dow, Erin Davie, Gareth Keegan, Nathan Lucrezio | Written by Joe DiPietro (book), David Bryan (music) | Directed by Christopher Ashley

A little while ago I wrote a review for a soundtrack titled Princess Diana: The Musical (for anyone interested you can read it here) but since then I have been constantly responding to people who thought that this musical was the same as the new movie musical Diana, which is available on Netflix now. While the subject matter and titles are somewhat similar (with the musical adding the “Princess” in the title) they are actually two very different productions. They both follow Diana’s sudden rise to fame through her relationship with Prince Charles and how this celebrity status affected her health. I have heard and read nothing but negative things about the professionally recorded production of Diana so I thought it would only be fair to check it out for myself and see if it is as bad as everyone is making it out to be… and I have to admit generally the reviews are pretty accurate but more on that later!

I think it’s always a good idea to start with the positives. It’s always great to see an official Broadway recording of a production as it shines a light on the theatre community. It is even more needed right now, as the coronavirus has had a detrimental effect on the industry as a whole, but especially on Broadway and its performers. It is amazing that despite everything that is currently going on, the actors and actresses of Broadway are still able to work and produce new musicals. I thought that the musical itself contained some of the most beautiful sets I have seen in a very long time. It was all incredibly regal and ornate, with the float in an arch before the wedding scene being a particular highlight for me. Also, there were projections of Buckingham Palace throughout, which looked hyper-realistic and amazing! I also thought that the costumes (especially those for Diana) were absolutely gorgeous! The costume team, headed up by William Ivey Lon, had worked incredibly hard to recreate some of the people’s princesses’ outfits which must have been very difficult as Diana was known for being a fashion icon, but the team had managed to recreate some of her most iconic outfits flawlessly. The costume changes within this production were out of this world! I have watched some of these changes back numerous times and I cannot figure out how they managed to so seamlessly change clothes right in front of the audience’s eyes! The wedding scene costume change is a highlight, where Diana magically transforms from her undergarment to an over-the-top wedding dress almost instantly… which was mesmerising to watch! I also thought that it was very clever that the stagehands (who brought on set and props) were dressed as maids and waiters which made sense within the setting of the show. The majority of the action within the show takes place within Buckingham Palace which, I imagine, would have armies of helpers and so to tie that into the performance was great to see.

Within this production, the role of Prince Charles is played by Roe Hartrampf who began the show with a very proper and regal portrayal of the prince. During the number “worst job in England” alongside the queen (who was played by Judy Kaye) the pair discuss how bad being a royal can be. I was a little confused by the chorus in this number however, as I was not sure if their fourth wall breaking was supposed to be an aside to the audience or if the mother and son duo could hear them. The two groups have contrasting views but I was not sure if this was supposed to be a musical discussion or just an extra insight for the audience. I have to admit that I was very perplexed by some of the character choices made regarding the character of Diana herself.

Jenna de Waal acted the princess very well with her revelations throughout the narrative being very poignant and clear but the minds behind this new movie musical had decided to portray the people’s princess as extremely common. While I understand she was not as uptight as the royal family having a whole number about classical music vs. disco and the cringeworthy line “this is how your people dance” being chanted was just taking it too far. They had tried to exaggerate the contrasts between Diana and the royal family but this went beyond slight difference into almost a caricature of a common person. During the same number, we had a sort of dream sequence where Prince Charles accepted this new lifestyle and accepted disco but his dancing still appeared very stilted and uncomfortable despite it being Diana’s fantasy! I also thought that the inclusion of mental health within this story caused more harm than good. A collection of characters addressed Diana’s self-harm as attention-grabbing and it was never explained that this was caused by the stress of the media. I think that this is only going to have a negative effect – especially any young people who are experiencing mental health issues. They also had this character utter some of the most cringeworthy lines I have ever seen including “Harry, my ginger-haired son / You’ll always be second to none!” However, Jeanna performance of “Simply Breathe” was incredible which led to one of the only truly emotion-inducing moments in the entire show. The music and her singing escalated in such a beautiful way that captured many of her high and low points in her life. The one character that I did enjoy however was Paul Burell (who was played by Bruce Dow) who was a sort of advisor who delivered a very fun and energetic performance during “what can a woman do” alongside Princess Diana.

Overall this was a musical that visually was great to watch but the characters were based on very old fashioned ideas of mental health and the media (with the paparazzi being shown in trench coats physically hounding the people’s princess.) I don’t know whether it is due to the uptightness of the characters or these old fashioned ideas but I found the characters very difficult to relate to and so many of the more emotional moments in the show fell flat. On a personal note, the Welsh accents within this musical were one of the worst I have heard in a long time.

**½  2.5/5

Diana is available to watch on Netflix now.

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