I remember the night that Princess Diana died. I was a freshman in college. That night, I drank the first beer of my life as we watched the news coverage. It was a surreal moment. No one could believe that she was gone. And in such a tragic accident. Many allege that it was the paparazzi and her constant place in front of the camera that caused her demise. She was beloved by the world. There have been books and movies about her life and now, there is a stage show — “Diana: The Musical,” streaming on Netflix. And it’s a campy two-hour escape.
I am a huge fan of musical theatre, having spent many years on a stage myself, so I was excited to give this one a shot. And contrary to what many have said, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t looking for a historically accurate biopic. I wanted some show tunes, pretty costumes, and a little fun. And for my desires, ‘Diana’ delivered. This isn’t ‘Hamilton’ and it’s not ‘Grease,’ but the music was enjoyable and the acting was pretty good. And Diana’s wigs? Spot on!
The musical itself centers on Diana’s (Jeanna de Waal) public life as it was followed, most famously, by the paparazzi. As a 19-year-old nursery teacher, she catches the eye of Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) and their courtship is depicted through a number of sometimes silly, upbeat songs. The story doesn’t shy away from Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie) and the fact that his heart belongs to her. But the world wanted Diana and she gave them what they wanted.
The audience is taken on a journey through Charles and Diana’s relationship from beginning to end. As the show opens, Diana’s naivety is front and center, but so is the public’s obsession with her. Throughout the show, you see trench-coat clad photographers dancing on the stage surrounding her, much like they did in her real life. A camera was always in her face and they loved her charm and her missteps equally.
The show is quick to point out Diana’s difficulties, like her fight with postpartum depression, her struggles with Charles, and the fact that their marriage was far from perfect. His love for Camilla is central to the show and you can’t help but dislike him and feel equally sorry for Diana. She was the world’s princess, but her husband treated her terribly. As we all knew when she was alive, she deserved so much better.
As her relationship with Charles becomes more strained and she begins to tire of being the, “pretty, pretty girl in the pretty, pretty dress,” she takes on the press. She sings bout how they have used her for so many years and it is now her chance to use them. Diana decides to change her image and become a fashionable woman on a mission. She is the antithesis of what Charles and the Queen desire her to be, but knowing that she will never truly have Charles’ heart, she quite frankly no longer gives a shit.
The show goes a bit off the rails with “Here Comes James Hewitt.” Hewitt, with whom Diana will have a long and serious affair, shows up on stage shirtless riding a symbolic horse. Diana’s affection for Hewitt is played up, but it is hard to take Hewitt seriously. He is just a bit too goofy. Her affair plays on one side of the stage while Charles hops out of bed with Camilla on the other. Charles finds out about Diana’s affair and takes it as an opportunity to deepen his relationship with Camilla. He is portrayed as a bit of a pig and you find yourself feeling like Diana’s affair is OK if it makes her happy. You just want her to be happy.
Noticeably absent from the show are Princes William and Harry. They are mentioned a few times, but they are never depicted on stage. She is shown in a positive light doing things like visiting AIDS patients in the height of the crisis, but most everything else shows a sadder side of the Princess’s life.
We see Charles and Diana’s life fall apart in the public eye. And while she argued that she would make her marriage work for the sake of her children, ultimately she chose happiness and a fresh start. She and Charles divorced in 1996. Diana long dreamt of a new life and another baby. She sings about her promising future as we learn of her tragic death. The juxtaposition of a woman starting fresh and her ultimate demise playing out at the same time is simply heartbreaking.
“Diana: The Musical” was worth two hours of my time. If for no other reason, it gave me a chance to remember the beautiful person that she was and the very difficult life that she led. Diana was truly a good person. She could have let herself unravel in the wake of such a tumultuous marriage, but instead, she took a higher road and used her position to do good in the world. Diana was a true humanitarian, one from whom we could all take a lesson or two.
The critics may have panned it, but I say give “Diana” a chance. Even if you don’t want to sit down for two hours, throw it on while you’re cleaning the house. The music is catchy and fun and it will remind you that life can deal you a shitty hand, but you can bluff and make it through. Diana was a legend, and our world needs more people like her.
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