Considering “The Crown” is such a painstaking re-creation of the British Royal Family, it’s surprising Netflix would be eager to air “Diana – The Musical,” a tabloidy look at one of the most attention-grabbing periods in recent history.
Filled with brow-raising incidents (including a shirtless James Hewitt romping around like a devotee of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”), it’s hardly the humanizing exercise “The Crown” is.
Slated to open on Broadway, this take was shot during the pandemic on a stage. Created by the folks behind “Come From Away,” it has similar beats but little tact.
Barbara Cartland, Diana’s best-selling step-grandmother, appears repeatedly. She’s a constant reminder that “Diana” is not taking the high road. Instead, it’s a definite trek through some dark, dark alleys.
While Jeanna de Waal is respectful as Diana, she’s quickly painted as a score settler – one who isn’t afraid to stand up to Charles (Roe Hartrampf) and call out his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie). Camilla comes off as the ultimate Salieri, advising both Charles and Diana on everything from jewelry to press conferences. She isn’t as calculating as you’d think, but she isn’t afraid to mask her own ambitions.
Charles, meanwhile, is a bit of a sap, unable to commit to anyone. When Diana confronts him (and plays the Hewitt card), he’s like a petulant boy.
The two square off in song (naturally), but the song – like most of them – is so forgettable you wonder if everything might have worked out had Camilla dated the stable boy.
Tony winner Judy Kaye gets the best moments but that’s probably because she plays two roles – Queen Elizabeth and Cartland. The former tries to broker peace and underscore duty; the latter romps like Dame Edna in a one-woman show.
Davie has the show’s best voice and, to be honest, Gareth Keegan (as Hewitt) gets the most fun.
Director Christopher Ashley plays much of this out on a bare stage where spartan set pieces try to create a more regal setting. Chorus members turn up as everything from paparazzi to servants and do so with the same kind of stomp choreographer Kelly Devine introduced in “Come From Away. Comparisons aren’t kind.
Luckily, William Ivey Long has created costumes that bring back memories better than any of the Joe DiPietro/David Bryan songs. They telegraph, immediately, what was going on if you had been around during the Charles/Diana years. While the two songwriters were able to do much more with “Memphis,” they didn’t give “Diana” the same kind of care and feeding. Songs like “Snap, Click” (which addresses the paparazzi problem) merely serve as placeholders for something better.
While the public appetite for Diana stories is apparently endless (there’s a movie with Kristen Stewart waiting in the wings), this isn’t much more than an appetizer for something better. Snack if you must, but wait for something more filling.