Released: 1st October
Seen: 7th October
Princess Diana, also known as the people’s princess, died in August of 1997 after a group of paparazzi chased her through a tunnel. The crash also took the lives of Diana’s partner Dodi Fayed and the driver of the car, Henri Paul. This was in 1997 and the obsession with Princess Diana has not abated for even a moment since that day, I would dare to say that there isn’t a week that goes by when she isn’t on the cover of a magazine that probably paid the very paparazzi that contributed to the events that led to her death. Her life was fascinating and full of truly great highs and lows… and is the subject of possibly the worst musical I’ve seen in my life and keep in mind that the Cats movie still exists so that’s a low bar.
Diana: A True Musical Story tells the story of Princess Diana (Jeanna de Waal), starting from the party in 1980 where she would meet Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf). As the play goes on, the story of her tumultuous marriage is slowly told and we hear song after song about Charles’ affair with Camilla (Erin Davie) or Diana’s affair with James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan) or about how this all really upset the Queen (Judy Kaye).
As Diana slowly realises that her marriage is a bit shit, the show then tells of the divorce and eventually some of Diana’s charitable work before ending with the exact ending you fear it would end with.
To give some mild credit to Netflix, I admire that they paid to professionally record a musical that’s about to open and released it before the show started. We need more professional recordings of Broadway shows and if they can be put online for easy access, that’s always awesome. I hope this leads to more stage shows being filmed for a streaming service, it shouldn’t just before big things like Hamilton but for every show. The fact that this recording exists is a lovely sign that maybe we’re going to make it easier for people to access great musicals… and also Diana, a bad musical that is bad.
Almost from the moment the curtain comes up, the show is absolutely awful. You may have seen a clip going around online for the song titled “This Is How Your People Dance”, an awful number full of bad lyrics about how Diana would like to make Charles enjoy more modern music like Duran Duran or Dire Straits… right, that song is the second song in the show and it might be the best of the bad bunch.
If songs aren’t poorly written to the point of being some absurdist comedy (such as Snap, Click, a song performed by the paparazzi who are all dressed like they flash small children on their way to school), then they’re bland to the point of making you forget the tune while it’s still playing (such as the wedding song I Will, which made me lose the will to go on).
None of the lyrics are memorable for good reasons, if they’re even memorable at all. What we have are a bunch of placeholder songs that somehow actually made it onto the stage and they’re so awful I wonder if the writers have ever written a musical before… and then I Google and see they wrote Memphis and The Toxic Avenger so I know for a fact they understand how musicals work, they just forgot this time.
Indeed, the songs are so awful in large part because they overwhelm the film. There’s almost no spoken dialogue or chance for anyone to even slightly raise the emotion of the piece, it’s just bad song after bad song. It’s like someone had the awful idea of writing a concept album about the life of Princess Diana and it somehow got a theatre on Broadway to put it on for a few weeks (look out for the shock announcement of this closing before the end of the year).
For the record, none of the awfulness of this show is on the actors who are doing the best they can with what they have. Even if the songs are shit, they’re well-performed shit (especially by Judy Kaye, possibly the best part of the entire show) and you can tell that these actors have good comic timing and can pull of the dramatic elements required… pity that almost everyone feels miscast and the script they have to work with is atrocious.
Speaking of atrocious, the fact that this thing decides to cram about 20 years of Diana’s life into 2 hours means there are some shocking cuts and major moments that get reduced to half a musical number… you know, little moments like when Diana had post-partum depression and attempted suicide or her absolutely essential trip to an AIDS ward where her shaking hands with the patients helped change minds about how to treat people with that illness. Yeah, these major things are almost afterthoughts in order to deal with the big “Plot”, namely that Charlie couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.
Most of the plot revolves around Charles’ affair with Camilla and how that affects Diana… except the play kinda doesn’t treat it like a big deal until the exact second they need to do the divorce scene. Up till then it’s just an offhanded joke that the prince has a mistress, this is just what happens and why is it a big deal… and then tries to act like it’s a big deal. There’s no build-up, no drama, no emotion. We’ve progressed to the point in Diana’s life where she talked about her husband’s affair so that’s what we’re doing now. What do you mean this is a story and therefore should have some form of narrative buildup?
Diana is just not a good musical, the only thing this entire production has of value is proof that it’s actually possible to record stage shows and release them to a welcoming public. Maybe if Netflix actually did this with a good show it might make a trend happen, but I doubt it. As for this show? No, this is a bad show. It’s certainly not worth whatever price they’re asking for a ticket to see it live, it’s barely worth the 11 bucks you might pay for the Netflix subscription. It’s bad, hilariously bad in ways I didn’t expect.