Netflix's Diana The Musical: A Belated Review
A belated review by Hannah Pearl
Any discourse about Diana: The Musical, a Broadway show that was filmed on stage for Netflix, ended quite a while ago. In fact, most people are probably ignorant of the film's existence, having forgotten any articles or Twitter posts that were written. However, this is only true for those who watched the reactions unfold from the sidelines. For those who did view it, it was a truly unforgettable experience, one that can not simply be scrubbed from the mind. So why release such a belated review of Diana? Because shared misery is better than being miserable alone and those who viewed it in 2021 have never fully recovered.
Joe Hartrampf as Prince Charles and Jeanna de Waal as Princess Diana
For those who don’t know, Diana is a musical that covers the life of Princess Diana from when Prince Charles and herself began courting in 1980, to her death in 1997. The show has music by David Bryan, a book by Joe DiPietro and lyrics by both (so at least they can share the blame on that one). Both are veterans in their craft, with multiple Tony awards and a history of working together. All this considered you might expect the show to not feel as if it was written by amateurs. You would be disappointed.
The show opens with the lights down, music pounding, and Diana, played by Jeanna de Waal, by herself centerstage. It's the perfect setup to create that spark that can only be felt when you watch theater. Suffice to say that spark never came as Diana started singing the rather dull opening number. It should have been an introduction to what makes Diana, Diana. Instead we get a blandly generic song about being underestimated. Generic is a good word to describe all the songs in Diana. They all sounded the same, save for a few standouts. Actually, perhaps that should be reworded. That makes it sound like they stood out for a good reason. They all sounded the same save for a few bad songs, I mean like, really bad. Really, really bad.
Aside from those few really, really bad exceptions, the songs blended together with forgettable orchestration that certainly won't leave you humming afterwards. Of course the bland music is nicely complemented by some of the worst lyrics to grace a Broadway stage.
Anyone who views Diana: The Musical may be instantly overcome with concern for the wellbeing of Bryan and DiPietro who crafted the show. Frankly, they seem to be in need of an intervention. Someone needs to take these two aside, sit them down, and ask them if they understand that songs don’t need to rhyme. Because they all did. Almost every line. In the same way a six-year-old might believe all songs must follow the same A-B-A-B generic rhyme scheme, so apparently do Bryan and DiPietro.
With memorable lines like “Better than a Guinness, better than a wank, snatch a few pics puts money in the bank,” and “It hardly takes a genius to make the front page. It just takes someone pretty, think when Ziggy was the rage,” it is clear they put a lot more effort into making the lines rhyme than making them not demonstrably stupid. Not to mention the writers' experience with British culture seems to begin and end with Dick Van Dyke's portrayal of a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.
Snap Click was one of the show's particularly bad numbers with lyrics so lacking in subtlety that it insults the audience's intelligence, and music that sounds like a middle schooler's idea of edgy rock. The song is sung by the “evil” trench coat and fedora-wearing paparazzi, who all inexplicably have Cockney accents. It's a strange creative choice considering the accent in question is distinct to a small part of London, specifically London’s East End. It seems to be drawing from the age-old, offensive stereotype that Cockneys (East London Natives) are “uncivilized” and “criminals.” Trying to indicate that they are low-class and bad by giving them Cockney accents is not only remarkably lazy, but ignorant as well. It’s a rather undeserved insult to those actually living in London's East End, and another indication that having an American write the lyrics was a bad idea.
Jeanna De Waal as Diana speaking with an AIDS patient played by Chris Medlin
Among the show's other sins, one would be remiss not to mention that in the middle of a ballad, Diana sings the line “serves me right for marrying a Scorpio” unironically. There’s even a number where an AIDS patient sings “I may be unwell but I'm handsome as hell” in a moment that tries and fails to emulate Rent. The song that really shatters one's will to live, however, was Here comes James Hewitt, the Act Two opener. For a bit of context, James Hewitt is a man Diana had an affair with. Imagine, the curtains rise and after a brief introduction, a hole opens in the middle of the stage and from that rises a singing, shirtless Hewitt played by Gareth Keegan sitting on a saddle. This is one of the numbers that was actually intended to be humorous, but with it dedicated mostly to showing Hewitt's sex appeal, it was the moment in the show where you may find yourself starting to die inside.
Perhaps the show's biggest sin, though, is its insistence on downplaying Diana's privilege. One of her first lines is “I’m a kindergarten helper. I don’t even know why I came,” in regard to a party that Prince Charles, played by Roe Hartrampf, was also attending. That alone brings out the desire to yell "Bitch, you're not just a kindergarten helper, your damn father was an Earl! You wouldn’t be there, and you wouldn’t have married the Prince, otherwise!" Diana's status is mentioned later, but the fact that she was a part of the British aristocracy before marrying the Prince was clearly downplayed.
It seems like an awfully weird idea to downplay a major part of your character's life. That is unless you're desperately trying to make her the most relatable person in the world despite the fact that she grew up with more wealth than most people will ever see in a lifetime. In their continued effort to make Princess Di seem like the most distressed person on the planet, they make sure to emphasize that being princess is the worst job in England. Yes, that is the exact wording they used. No, it was not said ironically, and yes, this was a song lyric and it was repeated just about eighty-thousand times.
Joe Hartrampf as Prince Charles and Jeanna de Waal as Princess Diana
It’s no secret that Princess Diana had difficulties in her life, but as far as being the worst job in England? That statement is insulting to say the least, and frankly it's a bit of a self-inflicted wound. She made the conscious decision to become Princess. It's not like they sprung the idea on her after she got married. The show greatly overcompensates for the fact that Diana was unusually blessed. This is to the point that they spend an entire song trying to convince the audience that being Princess is, as mentioned before, “the worst job in England.”
Reflecting back on Diana, a few things that come to mind that one might rather do than see this musical. Wait on hold for customer service; visit the DMV; have open heart surgery. All are viable options.
The only real emotion the show generates (other than seething anger of course) is a great deal of sympathy for Jeanna de Waal. Her voice is undeniably beautiful and you can tell she has a certain charm and charisma. Truly, she seems talented underneath all the word vomit. Unfortunately, that talent alone cannot save the slapdash, ill-considered lyrics, listless tunes, and indifferent direction of Diana: The Musical.