More than two decades since Princess Diana’s passing, a musical about her life has been written. The show was scheduled to open in April on Broadway, with performances delayed by the coronavirus shutdown.
The musical, which spans Diana’s life in the royal family, opens the curtains on the first time she met Prince Charles in 1981 and continues until her death in 1997.
Before hitting Broadway, it ran for a sell-out season last year at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.
From the love triangle between Diana, her husband Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, to Diana’s rumoured suicide attempts and battle with bulimia, Diana: A True Musical Story doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter.
But while the cast and creators are adamant it is an accurate and honest depiction, royalists have disagreed, blasting the show as offensive.
Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine, said, “It is in such bad taste that it’s best ignored.” When asked by media whether the royal family should see the musical, she scoffed, saying “Oh goodness, no. None of them would have any interest in it.”
The Sunday Telegraph added, “Some royal fans will certainly find the idea unappealing,” and The San Diego Union-Tribune said, “If you’re feeling protective of the British royal family, prepare to clutch your pearls.”
Despite the show’s mixed reviews, it was a hit with audiences. However, The Telegraph suggested Diana is geared more towards American viewers, and would be criticised by Brits should it ever travel to the West End.
In particular, certain scenes could be considered especially offensive. Between Queen Elizabeth II’s character (played by two-time Tony Award winner Judy Kay) swearing in song, to a scene in a boxing ring where Camilla and Diana mock-fight, and a particularly raunchy number where Diana’s former lover James Hewitt appears in bed with her, wearing little more than his underwear, there are multiple scenes that would make the royals blush.
Created by the pair behind the Tony-winning hit Memphis, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (one of the founding members of Bon Jovi), the show is chock-a-block with musical numbers in styles ranging from pop and rock to romantic ballads.
As two Americans taking on the most famous family in Britain, Joe and David believe they’ve brought something fresh and original to a well-known story.
“I think not being British is an advantage here,” David told Rolling Stone. “We’re not under the royal anything; we’re removed from it. It’s a human, emotional story.”
He vividly remembers the day Diana was killed in a car crash, saying, “When she died, that was very impactful. Especially the paparazzi that chased her into that, and her getting killed by the press, it’s terrible. It’s awful.”
Jeanna De Waal, who plays Diana, and has previously found fame on Broadway in Kinky Boots and American Idiot, said that she found the process of delving into the princess’ private life fascinating.
Speaking to The Daily Beast in February, Jeanna insisted that the whole cast have been mindful to be make it a show that the royal family wouldn’t find distasteful. “It is done with tact,” she said.
“No one is playing a caricature purposefully. It is not critical of the royal family. They’re much more than just celebrities or gossip or role models. They’re more than any kind of figure, they’re part of our culture.”
Jeanna added that she’d love William and Harry to watch the show, but added,
“I understand that watching me play their mother at dramatic moments in her life might be very upsetting for them.”
Jeanna also noted that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure from the royal family, and their move to North America, adds another layer of significance to Diana.
“It makes our show relevant,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a shame for England. They would have been modern, fantastic ambassadors. But they have a right to happiness.”