NEW YORK — In order to save their financial bacon during the pandemic, the producers of “Diana the Musical” preempted their own Broadway opening by selling out their show to Netflix. Open-mouthed viewers watched versions of Barbara Cartland and Queen Elizabeth singing and dancing for their supper in an empty theater.
This was among the most terrible ideas in the long history of Broadway.
“The worst thing I’ve ever seen” was one of the kinder headlines after the Netflix debut. Members of the Twitterati helpfully suggested that the stream be burned, destroyed or otherwise get its head chopped off. The bad lyrics police had a veritable field day, howling at “It’s the thriller in Manila but with Diana and Camilla,” and, from the mouths of the British tabloid paparazzi the title character loathed, “Better than a Guinness, better than a wank/ snatch a few pics, it’s money in the bank.”
And that merely is a sample of the kind of rhymes that could turn Stephen Sondheim toward sedition, were he not there already.
Wednesday night, this tawdry affair with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, opened in the way it was first intended: A love affair wherein Diana, played by Jeanna de Waal, extracts her revenge on her fickle husband, played in aptly feckless manner by Roe Hartrampf, before several hundred of her most fervent admirers, more than a few of whom appeared to have imbibed an empowering glass of champers before the performance.
Go, Diana! High camp reigneth at the Longacre Theatre. This is much the same show as “Six,” only with just one woman and set mostly in the last gasping decades of the 20th century.
“Diana the Musical” offers no meaningful insights (nor even ones lacking in meaning) into a woman who really should be allowed to rest in much-deserved peace. Dramaturgically speaking, this trashy show makes “The Crown” look like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
But director Christopher Ashley has pumped up the energy. The fearless choreographer Kelly Devine (anyone who puts a real Dancing Queen on a Broadway stage gains a lifetime of stories to tell at parties) takes, as her ubertext, revenge served cold. And the masked hordes thus fasten their seat belts (as if they could find the buckle after all those pregame cocktails) and settle down for a melodrama of retribution that is perhaps best summed up by another of the show’s immortal lyrics, deftly referencing one of Diana’s famous attempts at exacting revenge through her couture, “a feckity-feckity, feckity-feckity, feck-you dress.”
Nobody cares here about the mincing Charles’ Glasgow-hugging climate bona fides. He was a lousy husband to a vulnerable young woman, and this is all about not letting the world forget that. At a press performance, the audience booed the heir to the British throne like he was a Dion Boucicault villain, or an errant contestant on “Survivor” who had revealed himself unworthy. Come to think of it, that’s not entirely removed from the truth.
As Camilla Parker Bowles, Erin Davie does all she can do not to play merely a well-spoken rottweiler, but the audience, frankly, has other ideas. And Davie is enough of a pro to know she may as well lean in to the experience, which is also true of Judy Kaye’s queen. What you gonna do?
Broadway, of course, is supposed to have fun shows and one could see bachelorette parties and the like having a good time here; the title comes with massive preawareness, so this may well be a hard show for huffy critics or boringly righteous elites to kill, much as they will try. It requires no foreknowledge beyond some passing acquaintance with one of the world’s most famous women. It has buzz.