Princess Diana’s life has served as inspiration for a wave of recent interpretations and retellings, including in “The Crown,” and the upcoming movie, “Spencer.” Now, there’s also a Broadway musical about the People’s Princess to add to the mix.
“Diana: The Musical“ had only just begun showing at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway when it was shut down in March 2020 due to the pandemic. It’s now getting ready to reopen with the same cast, but will first be available to stream on Netflix beginning Oct. 1. It’s the first time audiences will be able to watch a brand new musical on their TVs before it hits the Great White Way.
“It’s absolutely uncharted territory,” explained director Christopher Ashley of the unique opportunity.
“It’s really wild to look back now,” Roe Hartrampf, who plays Prince Charles, said of filming in the middle of the pandemic nearly a year ago. “It’s hard to remember that there was not a vaccine in that moment and we weren’t sure that we were done to get one. So we were definitely on edge,” he told Inside Edition. “There was a lot of pressure to stay safe and stay healthy.”
“It was a huge, huge gift,” said Broadway veteran Judy Kaye, who plays Queen Elizabeth, of getting the rare opportunity to work on a Broadway stage throughout the shut down.
Actress Jeanna De Waal stars as Diana. She said she feels a lot more “excitement than pressure” these days knowing the whole world will see her interpretation of Diana as opposed to strictly New York City theatergoers. “Pressure is such an interesting word because it’s such a pressure to be the lead in a show anyway,” she told Inside Edition over Zoom.
De Waal wears more than 30 costumes based on some of Diana’s iconic looks from her wedding gown to the black velvet off-the-shoulder dress she wore as she danced with John Travolta. “To play someone like Diana is a huge honor. It’s obviously quite nerve-wracking, but such a wonderful responsibility to who we love so much,” she had previously told Inside Edition in 2020.
The musical highlights the ups and downs of Princess Diana’s life, from when she first got engaged to Charles at 19 through her divorce. The story focuses heavily on a love triangle with Camila Parker Bowles. “I think everybody walks into our show with a really personal understanding of who Diana is to them,” Ashley said at the musical’s first press event in January 2020 in an interview only recently shared. “It’s an incredible, epic toboggan ride of a story.” In a new interview he added, “I think all of us really care about telling the story of this crazy marriage that Diana was in, as she called it ‘a crowded marriage,’ but also just the story of Diana. She really made a difference in her life.”
David Bryan, most famous for being Bon Jovi’s keyboardist, wrote the music for the musical. “We wanted to make sure that we addressed her postpartum depression and her other issues in a way that were both respectful and real,” he said in 2020. “So we definitely have that in. We also wanted to make sure we see where she goes into the AIDS hospital and touches the hand of an AIDS patient, which unbelievably in 1987 was still feared. As a young man, I remember seeing her do that. And I remember how it changed the face of how people with AIDS were treated. And it is certainly in our show.”
To get into character, De Waal spent hours studying old videos of Princess Diana. So did Hartrampf. “I tried to find the oldest and earliest footage of him I could find to use. Just to get the cadence of his voice and understand the way that he communicates.”
Erin Davie, who plays Camila Parker Bowles, researched archival photos of her for inspiration but there were few videos. “That made it a bit harder because there was so little information. She’s very private. There’s not even a lot of photos. However, I will say the photos of her when she was younger are gorgeous. I think people do not give her credit for just how beautiful she was,” she said.
“Diana” marks the first of two musicals Ashley directed for film in the last year-and-a-half. He and choreographer Kelly Devine also staged “Come From Away” this past April, now streaming on Apple TV+. Both musicals come on the heels of the success of “Hamilton” on Disney+. But “Diana” will be a different experience since it hasn’t been on Broadway yet.
Over the course of four days, Ashley worked with Declan Quinn, a cinematographer who also worked on the “Hamilton film” and upcoming “Jersey Boys” movie to transform the stage production into a film. “What we put together for you is the first of its kind,” Hartrampf said. Legendary film producer Frank Marshall was also on hand. “It’s an actual film of the live show,” Hartrampf said. “So the camera angles that you’re seeing, the cinematography that you’re seeing, is really filmic.”
Thirty pages of the musical’s book by Joe DiPietro were rewritten and re-staged from those few March 2020 performances on stage. The cast had started reworking the show over zoom during the pandemic before they even knew they’d soon reunite to film it for Netflix. So, when it’s time to reopen on Broadway, the show might look different than it did during those initial 7 preview performances. There’s also the potential to make more changes once previews begin on Broadway on Nov. 2. Ashley revealed the last twenty seconds have already been rewritten from what audiences will see on Netflix so the live version will be a completely different experience.
The musical’s release also comes after Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who some have compared to her late mother-in-law.
“I think it’s inevitable that there are comparisons drawn. I think that that only adds to the importance of this show right now,” said Hartrampf. “The story of a woman finding her voice inside of the Royal Family and then taking steps to step away for her own mental health reasons, I think is very similar to what’s happening right now in the press. So for me, I think it just gives you context for what we’re seeing now and what Harry and Meghan are going through.”