It is telling that at the curtain call for the new musical Diana, The Musical at the Longacre Theatre, Erin Davie who plays Camilla Parker-Bowles, Princess Diana’s love rival, was not booed or received less enthusiastically than the other characters.
That she gave a wonderfully nuanced, beautifully sung performance may have something to do with this, but it’s more likely because Diana, written by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics), the team that won the Tony Award for Memphis, plays fair with all the characters: they are rendered in equally superficial ways with only rare glimpses into their humanness.
Diana is a chronological take on the life of the world’s favorite princess, the People’s Princess, as she negotiates the intrigues of the royal world she married into.
It all begins with a flash-lit slithering mob of paparazzi, homogeneously dressed in matching trench coats designed by the brilliant William Ivey Long who also outdoes himself with a panorama of gowns, suits, uniforms and accessories that turn Diana into that cliché, a feast for the eyes. A relatively small ensemble is transformed into scores of characters thanks to breakneck costume changes.
Immediately the scheming is evident as Camilla instigates plots that convince Prince Charles (tall, handsome Roe Hartrampf who sings well and acts as well as the script allows) to marry Diana Spencer (Jeanna De Waal), sister of Sarah Spencer (Holly Ann Butler, terrifically droll) whom he wooed with ill results.
Immediately when they meet, the cultural and social differences become evident: Charles knows nothing about eighties pop music and Diana feels ill-at-ease at classical music recitals.
It is Diana’s subsequent immersion into this back-stabbing world of royalty and her strong reaction to the well-documented lying, cheating and stonewalling that animates the rest of the musical.
Charles discreetly continues seeing Camilla. They have a lovely, if a tad mundane, song “I Miss You Most on Sundays” which tries to humanize their dual marital deceptions. (Camilla is still married to Andrew Parker-Bowles played solidly by Zach Adkins.)
The head of the royal family comes off best. As Queen Elizabeth, veteran musical star Judy Kaye gives warmth and humor to the venerable monarch. When Kaye sings “An Officer’s Wife” toward the end of the show, she provides a bittersweet look into the sacrifices demanded of royalty. (Kaye also serves double duty with a wickedly witty impersonation of the saccharine romance novelist Barbara Cartland, Diana’s step-grandmother.)
Gareth Keegan makes a sexy splash as James Hewitt, Diana’s lover. He makes his first entrance on a horse dressed only in riding pants and boots with his memorable abs and pecs much in evidence.
As Diana becomes more and more fed up she abandons her modest wardrobe for haute couture and her modesty for public approval. Her personal assistant, Paul Burrell (campily performed by Anthony Murphy) is her provocateur in residence. Her good works, such as her visit to an AIDS ward, provide a hint of her humanity but when she helps Andrew Morton (Nathan Lucrezio) write his tell-all biography she comes off as a spoiled child.
Despite the fact that the script allows Jeanna De Waal’s Diana to mature from the demure teenaged bride to a monster who seeks vengeance against those who held her back, she appears only to change her clothing. She sings well and certainly looks beautiful in her gowns, all reproductions of those the real princess made famous in her visits to every corner of the world.
David Zinn’s sets are less colorful than Ivey Long’s costumes. Still, his multiple roving towers cleverly change the stage into a number of spaces—homes, palaces, streets and abbeys—with decorative touches flown in from above. Natasha Katz lights the stage brilliantly, making the most of the set and costumes.
Christopher Ashley directs with an eye toward pacing and broadness while Kelly Devine’s choreography is well-integrated into the story.
If you are a Princess Diana completist, Diana: The Musical will satisfy your needs along with the deeper Spencer and The Queen and all the innumerable documentaries about this ill-fated fairy princess. Those interested in delving deeper into the Princess Diana mystique will be disappointed with this superficial, but somehow entertaining, musical.
Diana, The Musical (open run)
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission