Review Roundup — Netflix's 'Diana the Musical' Gets Slammed as It Heads to Bway Opening

Monday October 11, 2021
Originally published on October 6, 2021

Jeanna de Waal in "Diana the Musical"
Jeanna de Waal in "Diana the Musical"  (Source:Netflix)

Sing out, Diana? Not quite.

"Diana the Musical," based on the life of Princess Diana, doesn't return to Broadway until next month, starting previews Nov. 2 with a projected Nov. 17 opening. It was previously in previews in March 2020, but was forced to close due to the pandemic.

In an unusual move, the show was filmed and premiered on Netflix last week; but if producers are thinking that the broadcast version will encourage ticket sales, they may be mistaken after the reviews of the streaming version came out.

The musical is by the team behind the Tony-winning "Memphis," with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan. The show is directed by Christopher Ashley with choreography by Kelly Devine. "Diana" stars Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles, and Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth.

"The new Princess Diana musical has been roundly slammed by critics and viewers over its 'hysterically awful' lyrics and 'absurdly over the top' production," writes the Daily Mail.


While it is not entirely fair to take lyrics out of context, here are some examples of what the critics found so offensive and downright silly:

Chorus of onlookers at a party thrown by Camilla (Erin Davie), crashed by her romantic rival: "It's the 'Thrilla in Manilla' / But with Diana and Camilla!"

Diana being chased by paparazzi who chant: "Better than a Guinness, better than a w**k / Snap a few pics, it's money in the bank."
Diana, cradling Harry: "Harry, my ginger-haired son / You'll always be second to none."

A man dying of AIDS sings to Diana: "I may be unwell, but I'm handsome as hell."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the video "one-star," and wrote: "If it was deliberate satire it would be genius, but it's not. It's a saucer-eyed retelling of the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, with bobbing chorus lines of footmen and flunkies who with a costume change morph into step-in-time phalanxes of snarling tabloid hacks, while Diana solemnly warbles downstage about her loneliness and determination in a pool of follow spotlight."

Roe Hartrampf and Jeanna de Waal in "Diana the Musical"
Roe Hartrampf and Jeanna de Waal in "Diana the Musical"  (Source: Netflix)

Entertainment Weekly's Maureen Lee Lenker called the decision to stream it on Netflix a "somewhat head-scratching choice," commenting on the musical seeming soullessness. "It hops from one salacious, tabloid-grabbing headline to the next, pummeling the audience through a fashion show of Princess Di's greatest looks (beautifully recreated by William Ivey Long) while offering no insight whatsoever into her emotional state."

CNN's Brian Lowry was kinder, though largely on the distaff side. "Joe DiPietro (who wrote the book/lyrics) and David Bryan (music/lyrics) previously collaborated on the Tony-winning "Memphis," and they've teamed again with 'Come From Away' director Christopher Ashley. Yet the process of filtering Diana Spencer's journey from wide-eyed 19-year-old through her divorce from Prince Charles feels a little too been-there, seen-that, despite the energetic use of the large cast to inhabit a wide variety of roles."

In her one-and-one-half star review on RogerEbert.com, Christy Lemire complained about how the show adds little to the late Princess's legacy. "In the decades since her untimely death, Diana has remained endlessly fascinating. But "Diana: The Musical" adds nothing novel or substantial to our understanding of her as a wife, mother, royal or celebrity. She remains one of the most famous and talked-about people on the planet, but this production merely rehashes in rushed, glossy fashion what we already know about her."

The Boston Globe's Don Aucoin wrote on how cliche-ridden it is. "As biography, 'Diana' is shallow and reductive, checking the boxes of an extremely well-known story with numbing predictability. As musical theater, 'Diana' is a forgettable farrago of painfully on-the-nose lyrics and clashing song styles that ventures perilously close to camp."

And Variety's Peter Debruge calls it"a kitsch stage tribute to balance the more critical/cynical takes still popping like so many flashbulbs around the late icon..."

He also points out that the experience of watching the musical on Netflix was less than satisfying. "Experiencing the musical on screen makes "Diana" feel all the more inadequate, since closeups call for a more nuanced performance than de Waal is prepared to give. (Contrast this with Kristin Stewart, who conveys volumes with each microexpression, and de Waal's Diana comes off feeling like a Disney cartoon.) Even without the energy of a live audience to invigorate it, the Netflix production improves upon the quick-cut, random-camera-placement approach of last year's 'Hamilton' movie."