Princess Diana may have stolen the show at Buckingham Palace, but it’s Queen Elizabeth II who’s stealing “Diana,” the new musical that started previews this week at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse.
Everybody’s raving about Judy Kaye’s performance as both the durable monarch and as Barbara Cartland, the prolific romance novelist and Diana’s step-grandmother. As the queen, Kaye is “chilly, imperious, a little scary,” says a source. As Cartland, she’s “deliciously fun.”
If Kaye is walking away with the show, how easy lies the crown on the head of Jeanna de Waal, the English actress playing Diana?
She’s giving a solid performance, sources say, it’s just that Diana isn’t as compelling a character as the queen or as much fun as Cartland. That’s to be expected: The young Diana was a fairy-tale princess but a bit of a cipher. Only when her marriage to Prince Charles fell apart did she emerge as a style icon, a shrewd media player and a thorn in the royal family’s side.
Directed by Christopher Ashley, “Diana” has a script by Joe DiPietro (“Memphis”) and a score by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan. It opens March 3, and if the reviews are decent, sources say, producers hope to bring it to New York next spring.
It does need work, sources say. The opening number features a child actor playing Diana as a ballerina who thinks life should be like a Cartland romance. “Cut the kid,” one source says. “Get right into the marriage and then the intrigue.”
Audiences are cheering William Ivey Long’s over-the-top costumes, especially the wedding dress, which is the subject of a musical number.
Another haute couture highlight is what’s called the “f - - k you dress,” the strapless number she wore to a party in London the night Charles announced he cheated on her with Camilla Parker Bowles. The Sun described Diana in that dress as “the thrilla he left to woo Camilla.”
There is no car crash. The musical ends with the announcement of her death and images of the worldwide outpouring of grief.
One character in the show is Andrew Morton, the British journalist who became Diana’s confessor, and who wrote the book “Diana: Her True Story — in Her Own Words.” Morton lives in La Jolla, Calif., and while he’s yet to see the show, I’m told he’ll be invited to opening night.
Two characters who are missing are Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry — and some people working on the show believe that’s a problem.
“The audience wants to see the boys,” a source says. “Especially since they’re in the news all the time now.”
The royal family has said nothing about “Diana.” But I’m told that, if and when the show comes to Broadway, opening-night invitations will be sent to William and Harry.
Perhaps Charles can score a ticket to “Hamilton.”
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
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