The arena of Princess Diana-related film and TV productions is now so congested it’s getting ridiculous. CNN kicks off a new six-part series, Diana, this Sunday. CBC Gem has The Shadow of Diana. There’s The Crown. Coming soon is the movie Spencer, with Kristen Stewart playing Diana.
But hold your horses, there is also Diana: The Musical (streams on Netflix), which is quickly gaining a reputation as an abomination so bad it really must be seen. The reviews to date express the withering contempt that, in truth, makes other critics really, really want to write about it. Just how bad are the reviews?
“Something that makes the 2019 film version of Cats look like a masterpiece,” wrote Michael Idato in the Australian paper, The Age. In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw weighed in with “A right royal debacle so bad you’ll hyperventilate.” In the Irish Independent, Chris Wasser’s stunned review carried the headline, “Netflix’s deranged Princess Diana musical is a demented, jaw-dropping abomination.”
That bad, eh? It’s all true. Diana: The Musical has to be watched with English subtitles on screen, because the words uttered are relentlessly worthy of derision.
Things open with Diana first meeting Prince Charles at a party. She keeps shouting that she’s underestimated. Well yes, but this show is underestimating our intelligence. Diana is played by British-born musical theatre star Jeanna de Waal, who is so wooden she could have a sideline playing Theodore Thugboat.
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In that first scene Diana meets Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davies), who tells her that she, Camilla, and Charles, are “chums.” Clearly, the rascals who created this atrocity were made aware of Chekhov’s dictum that if a gun is placed in a scene it must at some point be used. But we are only in the opening scene.
Anyway, grumpy Charles (Roe Hartrampf, who would make an excellent hat stand) takes Diana to a cello recital. Mstislav Rostropovich is performing. Diana observes and sings, “The Russian plays on and on / Like an endless telethon / How I wish he were Elton John!” Don’t we all, darling, don’t we all.
It is downhill from there. The British paparazzi bother Diana and sing out, “Snap, click, give us a quote, or we’ll go for your throat!” They sing other things too, including some incomprehensible nonsense that involves masturbation and drinking Guinness. These paparazzi scenes are staged as if roving gangs of soccer hooligans had a beef with the Princess.
In truth, there are soccer chants sung on the terraces in stadiums in England that have more wit and nuance than what unfolds here.
A dramatic climax of sorts is reached when Charles gets annoyed with Diana for dancing with some other chap. His admonition is this: “How about for a start / Don’t act like a tart, Diana!” In times to come, people will gather together and sing along to this awfulness with unrestrained glee.
I haven’t even got to the part where Charles and Diana become parents. Charles beams at baby William and informs Diana, in song, “Darling, I’m holding our son / So let me say, jolly well done!” Still later, Diana finds love, or thinks she might, with James Hewitt. We know this because the Hewitt chap has his shirt off.
The cringe-inducing vulgarity of it all goes on and on. Merrily so, which is very odd, because Diana died an early death in a horrific car crash. Where’s the fun in that? Well, the show takes the view that her spirit stayed alive to light up the world, or something along those lines. There’s sadness too. Charles and Camilla feel sad and Camilla asks Charles if he’d oblige her with cuddle. No, I’m not making that up.
Diana: The Musical exists because it was written by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics), the latter having a day job as member of Bon Jovi, and directed by Christopher Ashley, whose previous credits include the Broadway musicals Memphis and Xanadu. It was staged somewhere in LA before making its way to Broadway. Then COVID-19 came along and halted the show when it was still in previews. So, those involved decided to have a performance filmed for Netflix.
It’s a good thing they did. Otherwise, we’d be merely hearing second-hand about a Broadway show so bad it beggared description. Yes, it’s an abomination so bad it really must be seen.
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