The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Heads up! This review contains spoilers for Diana the Musical.
I’m a sucker for all things royal family –– I’ve eagerly awaited each season of The Crown, I watched Kristen Stewart in Spencer during its opening weekend, and, like millions of other viewers, I gasped during Meghan and Harry’s tell-all with Oprah last year. So, when Diana the Musical became available on Netflix, I knew that I had to watch it.
You might be thinking: isn’t it awful for Broadway to capitalize on the tragic life and death of the People’s Princess? I thought this, too, yet somehow I reserved a little hope that they could figure out a way to make lighthearted musical theatre songs tasteful in honour of Princess Di. This hope was soon dissolved by the opening number and it was replaced with a horrible taste left behind.
Diana the Musical wasn’t just a cheesy retelling of the princess’ story –– it was a royal mess.
It was so bad that 15 minutes into it, I paused it and debated whether it was even worth finishing. But, ever faithful to my Her Campus duties, I pressed on so I could write this review, resisting the urge to cover my eyes and plug my ears.
Writing for the stage is always a challenge and it’s not one that this musical rose to. At several points throughout the show, I asked myself, “Is this satire?” In my opinion, satire should always be obvious and explicit to the audience. This show isn’t satire (at least I don’t think that’s its intention). In any case, when making a show about the devastating life and death of the Princess of Wales, I wouldn’t think that satirical comedy is the way to go. In a scene where Diana is upset about her marriage to Charles, there’s a lyric where she literally sings, “Serves me right for marrying a Scorpio.” LOL.
In “The Worst Job in England” in which the Queen is telling Prince Charles that he needs to find a wife, it seemed like it was supposed to be funny and charming, but really it was just flat and one-dimensional. I realized in the following numbers that this is essentially a synopsis of the themes in the entire show.
The writing was incredibly corny and lacked any actual emotion or insight into Diana’s life. Musicals are supposed to make you feel like you’re right there in the story with the characters, but the writing was almost as if it came out of a high school’s low-budget musical theatre department. I took nothing away from it –– and that’s really saying something considering it’s an entire musical about someone whose story is so poignant and important.
The lyrics and overall musicality of the production were extremely poor quality. In its opening number “Underestimated,” the musical relies on a weak and unremarkable chorus and harmony which did nothing to make me want to continue. The song resembled the simple lines of poetry you might be assigned to write in elementary school. It lacked any sort of depth or meaningful message and it honestly felt like the songwriters were just flipping through a rhyming dictionary. This carries throughout the entire show. Never in my life have I grown tired of a musical’s songs like I have with this one. The lyrics were just awful.
It’s a shame, because Jeanna de Waal, who plays Diana, is clearly extremely vocally talented. She didn’t deserve such terrible songs.
The only good thing about this musical was the overall design. Every costume was beautiful, especially Diana’s costumes which were true to her real-life outfits. Even better, the quick on-stage costume changes were incredible. There was one scene where she quickly steps into her wedding dress before your eyes and another where she walks behind a clothing rack and she’s suddenly wearing entirely new clothes.
The set was great, too. Just the perfect amount of gaudy and royal, and the scenes and blocking were done well. In terms of design, I was impressed, but my respect for the show stopped there.
It’s true that no one could ever know what was truly going through Diana’s mind during her marriage, and I relent that musicals, in general, can only do so much to capture emotion in a short time; they don’t have the privilege of up-close shots and intimacy with viewers that TV shows and films do. However, musicals do have the privilege of showcasing emotion through musicality and direction, both areas in which the show suffered.
Some might argue that since Diana herself had such a strong penchant for the arts that she would have loved the musical. But in the end, there’s a reason why the show closed after just 33 performances on Broadway and it’s not because it simply needed to be workshopped. It’s because it was a bad idea in the first place that was only made worse by poor execution. Thirty-three performances too many, if you ask me.
If this musical had better writing, songs, and lyrics, as well as an overall improved story arc, it really could’ve been something. The costumes and set wouldn’t have gone to waste and neither would have de Waal’s talent.
Overall, is this a musical I’d recommend you spend one hour and 57 minutes watching? Absolutely not. Not unless you’re in the mood to walk away with disappointment and the urge to build a time machine to go one hour and 57 minutes into the past.