Friday, May 24, 2024

Princess “Diana” Gets Southern California Royal Treatment

The moment Diana comes on stage, we are transported back to 1981.

Lady Diana Spencer was of humble means and not very well read, unless you count Barbara Cartland romantic novels.

Her tale and rise to royalty is brought to life at the La Jolla Playhouse in the musical “Diana,” which is created by theatre royalty.

The pairing of British Royal Family with the Broadway theatre “family” proves to be idyllically sublime.

The Tony winning team of writers from “Memphis” as well as “The Toxic Avenger” are among the two greatest collaborators of our time.

Book writer/lyricist Joe DiPietro has proven he can do no wrong. When I see his name on a show, I take that as a guarantee that I will not be disappointed. Dating back to the Off-Broadway revue “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” DiPietro has written clever prose to original or adapted material, finding nuances, humor and a celebration of the human spirit in everything he does.

Add David Bryan’s music and collaborative lyrics, you’re guaranteed a great time at the theatre.

Bryan came out of left field to theatre goers as he’s from the the band Bon Jovi. But his beautiful melodies infused with an often rock beat only enhance his lyrics and storytelling and is a welcome addition to the theatre world.

DiPietro and Bryan continue their reign on musicals with “Diana,” playing at La Jolla through April 14.

The book and songs are only the beginning of the show’s success. Tony winning director Christopher Ashley has made the show a cavalcade of formality, familiarity and humanity.

We feel what Diana feels and she dodges a lot of the pomp and circumstance of being a Royal and  opens her heart to her subjects, making it easy to see why see was dubbed the People’s Princess.

None of this can be done without a perfectly cast Jeanna de Waal in the lead role. De Waal is uncanny in her resemblance and mannerism of the Princess and she is gifted vocally as well.

Jeanna de Waal as Diana (photo by Little Fang)

The cast is uniformly wonderful. Roe Hartrampf makes a worthy Prince Charles (even though he’s much better looking), Erin Davie’s Camilla Parker Bowles is somewhat likeable while Judy Kaye adds majesty to her Queen Elizabeth and steals the show in her other role as novelist Barbara Cartland. And then there’s Gareth Keegan who steals attention and hearts as he smolders on stage as Diana’s lover.

The musical is more than good songs and performances. It’s also an excellent showcase of Diana’s fashion forward couture choices. There’s a moment in the show in which she decides she can no longer be dressed in clothing dictated by the Queen. So she turns to fun frocks and shocking (for a royal) sexy and colorful attire. William Ivey Long hits the nail on the head with his designs and conjures up memories of some of Diana’s best moments: which were always done in high fashion (well, except for that likely Queen-approved wedding dress which still manages to make it to the stage).

David Zinn and Benjamin Seibert also excel in production and scenic designs. The paparazzi camera work is brilliant and often blinding to the audience. The scenery balances regal and working class settings very well. There’s also a scene in the show in which a very bright light shines on Diana. This small moment actually added an eerie, euphoric moment because during that brief scene, it almost seemed the spirit of Diana joined de Waal on stage as an aura surrounded her.

“Diana” is further proof that the La Jolla Playhouse’s production are of Broadway quality. Many of the theatre’s best shows end up in New York and the winner of Tony Awards. I don’t except anything less from this musical.

“Diana” ends her rein in La Jolla April 14. Best to get tickets now at

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 157 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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