Hate-Watching: Cameron and David Stream and Discuss Diana The Musical (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: In a perfect world, Diana The Musical would live up to its lyrics: “Sometimes it’s best to be underestimated.” Expectations for this pop-rock profile of the People’s Princess certainly couldn’t be deeper in the basement. Despite dismissive reviews for its trial run at La Jolla Playhouse in California, the musical proceeded to Broadway, where it played one week of performances before the coronavirus shut it down. The producers then pivoted to Netflix, where the show can now be seen in its entirety—no doubt a ploy to gin up interest in advance of its New York return. (Performances resume on November 2.) It’s a smart idea in theory to release a slickly shot, breezily edited musical to a theater-starved audience just getting comfortable with the prospect of heading back to Broadway, but I can’t imagine anyone watching this two-hour schlockfest at home and then dropping $150 for the privilege to see it again, masked and in an uncomfortable chair. Not only did the advanced word not underestimate the simplistic cheesiness of the show—written by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, who certainly isn’t giving Peter Morgan a run for his money as a Royal chronicler—the final product is sadly worse than I could have imagined. Whereas Lady Di herself radiated easy charm and genuine compassion, this dramatization is bogged down by forgettable music, bland acting and the exact kind of cheap tabloidization that the Princess of Wales suffered too often in life.

David Fox: Qualitatively, it would be almost impossible to underestimate Diana The Musical. Forgive me, but it doesn’t even rise to the lowest level of (groan) bridge and tunnel entertainment. Taking a wider view, I’m really struck by what a ghastly month it’s been for filmed musical theater more generally—by which I’m certainly also thinking of the Dear Evan Hansen movie. To be fair, the two are worlds apart. DEH is (or at least, was) a lightning-in-a-bottle property, with a hugely praised, star-making leading performance (Ben Platt, of course) that is also the centerpiece of the film. And a film is what it truly is rewritten and recalibrated for that medium, and presumably shot in a studio setting. Diana The Musical, on the other hand, is (by those standards, at least) a modest affair. The show has no track record to speak of; no real stars (the indomitable Judy Kaye in a supporting turn is the biggest name here); and early word of mouth is already dire. Recorded here, without an audience, I assume it’s otherwise a quite faithful representation of what we’d see on the Longacre stage if we were crazy enough to go. But really, who would contemplate it after seeing this? For me, the major takeaway in both cases is how difficult it is to successfully film a musical, especially a non-diegetic one. As for Diana—a shameless rip off of Andrew Lloyd Webber in general and Evita in particular—it, like its heroine, feels stuck in the ‘80s…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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