The La Jolla Playhouse world premiere of “Diana,” the musical, delivers in leaps and bounds. Artistic director Christopher Ashley along with an incredible backdrop of superb talent, knocks the Broadway bound endeavor out of the ballpark.
“Diana” touches upon the world’s fascination with the royal family by glimpsing into the austerity of her majesty’s kingdom from behind the castle walls. Sequencing events of the “People’s Princess” from the bells of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral to the black Mercedes sedan crashing into a pillar of the Pont d’Alma tunnel in Paris, “Diana” captivates with “epic” and “sweeping” musical forays.
Composer David Bryan, writer-lyricist Joe DiPietro, choreographer Kelly Devine and musical director, arranger and conductor-keyboardist Ian Eisendrath – along with his nine-piece orchestra – lead four main characters in front of a talented ensemble.
Costume designer William Ivey Long exposes Diana as the ultimate fashion icon by showcasing her eye for style. Set designer David Zinn, lighting-designer Natasha Katz, and sound engineer Gareth Owen complete the nuts and bolts of staging and sound.
“Diana’s” star, British actress Jeanna de Waal, leads counterparts Roe Hartrampf, as Prince Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker-Bowles and Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth.
De Waal, the first to test for the coveted role, left the powers that be a clear-cut message upon completion of her audition, “This is my role, don’t even think of anyone else.”
“Diana” juxtaposes honesty with talent. Despite the makings of a fairy-tale, even she, the “Shy Di” who met with presidents, dignitaries, diplomats, religious leaders, rock stars and movie legends, was human. And ever so vulnerable.
Dead at 36, the assistant kindergarten teacher who became the world’s most photographed woman, had 16 years earlier married Prince Charles, the most world’s most eligible bachelor destined to become the King of England. An estimated 750 million people watched the global television pageant while 600,000 spectators lined the streets of London.
Thirteen years her senior, Prince Charles was however, in love with another woman – Camille Parker-Bowles. The married, ever-present Mrs. Parker-Bowles helped Charles – along with the Queen mother – to choose the young virgin from aristocratic blood. But unlike Diana, who devoted herself to being in love, Charles had a different agenda. When asked about loving the then 19-year old he infamously quipped, “whatever that means.”
From the onset, Parker-Bowles never relinquished her role as mistress. The marriage, as Diana would famously quote years later, “became a bit crowded.”
While the musical scores celebrate Diana’s life, there are no noted villains, just the perpetual angst that comes with any love triangle. The play lyrically depicts Diana’s once promised fairy tale as an existence punctuated with bouts of depression, attempted suicides, eating disorders and her own extra-marital affairs. Even her beloved sons William and Harry could not save the marriage, which ultimately ended in divorce.
“Everyone, at some point during their childhood, is exposed to fairy tales – fantastical stories of dashing princes and plucky princesses overcoming curses and creatures to live happily ever after,” said Ashley. “Almost everyone, however grows to learn the difference between fiction and reality.”
“Diana” elegantly segues into the Princess’s final chapter. No longer suffocating behind the castle walls, Diana reached out to those in need. Plastering her heart on her sleeve, the compassionate soul coddled infants infected with HIV/AIDS, caressed lepers and journeyed through landmines with amputee victims in Bosnia and Angola. Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, devoted herself to highlighting HIV/AIDS early in its crises when most shunned themselves away from a disease no one understood.
Diana’s troubled marriage gave birth to a woman of accomplishment. Hounding paparazzi propelled the beauty into becoming a global phenomenon. Through “Diana,” we lay witness into pieces of her life, loves, charities and her untimely, tragic, death.
“Having lived through the relentless media coverage of Diana’s marriage, divorce, death and remembrance, I’ve always been tremendously moved by her to power to stand up to the might of the monarchy,” said Ashley. “The institution survived – and even thrived – but it was undeniably altered by Diana.
“Of course, Diana’s fairy tale didn’t end happily ever after. Perhaps that’s why, more than 20 years after her death, our culture remains fascinated by her story.”
“Diana” runs through April 14 at the La Jolla Playhouse.