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Consumed With Hate: Diana: The Musical

📸 She's All Alone, All Alone in her Time of Need...

The Crime: Diana: The Musical

The Guilty Party: David Bryan and Joe DiPietro
Overview: A wrong-headed venture fails to come together, surprising literally no one

Why I Hate It...

Diana: The Musical is shockingly well-produced. The actors are great, the choreography is lively, and it makes excellent use of its small stage to tell a visually dynamic story. The music is better than average for a Broadway show, penned by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan. The libretto is solid as well--there are even a few moments that are genuinely inspired, like The Main Event ("The thrilla in Manilla with Camilla") or The Dress ("A feckity-feckity-feckity-feckity F-you dress"). And the costuming is incredible--a number of Diana's iconic outfits have been recreated and there are some truly astounding on-stage quick-changes. So many vital pieces are in place. And yet... you know the kind of book or movie or TV show that, for no real obvious reason, just feels like less than the sum of its parts? Each individual scene may be great on its own, but the overall story never coheres. Even thought you started out with a fantastic idea on paper, the end result was flat and just lacking... je ne sais quoi. Now imagine that same concept, but starting with a terrible idea, and you've got Diana: The Musical.

And let's be clear on that up front: Diana: The Musical is a terrible idea on paper. It's that perfect blend of earnest, absurd, and borderline offensive that you normally associate with the humor on South Park. Princess Diana's life under a microscope and subsequent tragic death being repurposed into two hours of camp for the entertainment of tourists to New York City? A woman who was doggedly pursued by people trying to turn her into a spectacle to such a degree that it destroyed her life figuratively and then literally. Let's repackage that into a Broadway musical. I mean... I feel tacky just typing those words out. Oh! And we should be doing this on the heels of Hamilton, another musical about a tragic historical figure and one that had a bigger cultural impact than maybe any musical ever. This is a terrible idea.

Which is not to say that it can't be done well! Evita was a successful show that follows a woman whose life had a similar arc, and that show was a tremendous success. But Evita has a few things going for it that Diana does not. For one, it was written by the powerhouse duo of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. For two, British and American audiences in 1978 would not have visceral and perhaps formative personal memories associated with Eva Perón's death. Finally, and most importantly, Evita has a sense of perspective. There's a frame and a structure to it that guides the viewer through the story. It opens on the breaking news of her tragic death and is narrated by an antagonist. She has her "I want" song in the first act and she undergoes character growth over the course of the story, so that by the end you understand why the people of Argentina loved her and why her death mattered.

And perspective is the thing that Diana: The Musical is sorely lacking. What story is being told here? What does Diana want and how does the arc of her life either achieve or subvert that? And I realize that this is biographical, but you still have to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The show just doesn't ever commit to anything. It throws a bunch of ideas out there: Diana wants to live a fairy tale, she wants to humanize the royal family, she wants her freedom, she wants love, she wants to be left alone... Any of those could be a thematic arc, but altogether it's a bit of a muddle. And it's not even a well-managed muddle. Camilla Parker-Bowles is clearly set up as an antagonist, but over the course of the play she gets phased out into more of a sympathetic side character and Queen Elizabeth is now the antagonist.

In general, ideas that are supposed to feel important come up for a song or two and then disappear. Her kids are a bright point in her life and in hers and Charles' marriage. One song. Barbara Cartland appears to sing about romance. Two songs. These threads pop up and fizzle out. There is no story, just a sequence of events, but the individual set pieces are so well-executed that nobody in the production noticed it wasn't working until they started playing to half-filled houses. And the result is predictable: a bright and shiny bit of theater that lacks any narrative thrust at all. People are up on stage working their asses off to entertain you and it is just agonizingly dull after a while. And then it abruptly stops with the announcement that Diana is dead and the actor playing her walks slowly off the stage and you scratch your head wondering what in the hell you just watched.

For the month of May we're looking at plays! Next week, a disastrous film adaptation of an already underwhelming Broadway show. That's right... it's time to talk about Cats...

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.