Netflix kicked off the month of October with a musical that nobody asked for, nobody wanted and certainly nobody needed. “Diana: The Musical,” which premiered on Oct. 1, came to the streaming giant a month before its opening night on Broadway this November. A casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the musical, which chronically follows the life and times of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, only managed to squeeze out a few previews before its doors were shuttered for more than a year. In the same style as Apple TV+’s “Come From Away” and Disney+’s “Newsies” and “Hamilton,” “Diana: The Musical” was filmed on stage, though without an audience present. Frankly, there is not much of an audience outside the theater either with this film, as the few Broadway nerds like myself who ventured into this mess were left with one burning question: “why?”
Let me be the first to say that I absolutely love Princess Diana, so this is by no means an attack on her or her story when I critique the musical of her life. Diana is an icon, after all, but she’s an icon who lead a difficult life that ended all too quickly. Her story is a tragedy no matter how many shiny song-and-dance numbers you throw into the show. So this begs the question: Why was this created to begin with? Did we really need a musical about Princess Di?
In theory, I suppose it makes sense. Diana was a huge fan of the medium, loving to perform and loving the high-energy tunes of the 1980s. She was even a self-proclaimed superfan of the Broadway staple, “The Phantom of the Opera,” which she used in an elaborate gift for her husband on their seventh wedding anniversary. And I suppose Diana and the royals are having a resurgence in popularity. With the release of the multi-award-winning fourth season of Netflix’s “The Crown” last year, the upcoming Diana biopic “Spencer,” starring Kristen Stewart and the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah, the market for royal content is certainly there, yet somewhere things went horribly wrong. Clicking play on my tablet felt like buying a ticket aboard the Titanic with the knowledge of the ship’s untimely end.
When thinking about what makes a movie bad, it is easy to point fingers at the actors we watch for the duration of a film’s running time. That being said, I cannot fault the talents of the stars on stage. To be perfectly honest, they did as well as they could with the underdeveloped plot, forgettable tunes and juvenile lyrics. Jeanna de Waal, playing the titular role, has a phenomenal voice with an impressive belt, yet it is hard to showcase this when she sings lyrics like, “Harry, my ginger-haired son / You’ll always be second to none.” Though a talented Broadway veteran, Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth II, gives a shallow almost parodied performance of the monarch that pales in comparison to the Olivia Colman and Claire Foy performances in “The Crown.” Every word of dialogue is so literal and straightforward that there was no room for any expression by the actors.
The one redeeming quality of this film was the set and costumes. To be honest, this is the ultimate mark of a bad musical. I mean, when an actor or actress is on stage singing their heart out, it’s pretty embarrassing when audiences leave the theater thinking more about the outfit they were wearing rather than the immense talent that they possess.
As a history buff, however, the attention to detail in the historical accuracy of the icon’s couture was spot on. Every single costume Diana’s character wears (38 in total compared to the average 12 a Broadway leading lady usually wears) is an exact replica of a dress the real Diana wore at a specific point in time. Her wedding gown? Flawless. The “revenge dress?” Stunning. The dress she wore bringing Prince William home from the hospital? Stolen right from Diana’s closet and smacked on stage. Six-time Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long has once again demonstrated his expertise and could be the production’s only shot a Tony this June.
I can only imagine what this means for the Broadway production. When it is available for anyone to see at the monthly price of a Netflix subscription, why would anyone pay $250 to see it on stage all the way in New York City? Tourists? Old people, who still use cable for their TV and movie content? Who knows? But if the goal of this Netflix film was to build up buzz around the show and draw crowds off of their couches and into the seats of the Longacre Theatre of Midtown Manhattan, the “Diana” team will likely be disappointed. If anything, the film hurts the production and deters curious audiences from even the possibility of buying a ticket to the train-wreck, all but ensuring its early closure on the Great White Way this fall.