Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of Gabriel
Now, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan have created a musical based on Diana's story. As the world premiere La Jolla Playhouse production demonstrates, Diana, too, is all a façade.
Diana (Jeanna de Waal) was a naïve young girl when she met the much older Prince (Roe Hartrampf). Yet she was pretty, titled, and a virgin, three requirements for a bride who would become the mother of the heir to the British throne. The Prince proposed after a total of twelve datesand after consulting with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II (Judy Kaye). During that time, the prince became aware of how much press attention Diana received. Initially, he thought the press attention was a good thing, and he was pleased when their marriage produced two male children. But, as time went by, he became more aware of their incompatibilities (read: most of their interests were different, and the age gap became more noticeable) and he resented the attention that was showered on his wife and not on him.
In truth, there was another relationship, even at the beginning: Charles was romantically involved with Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie), who was married. Though both of them knew they could not marry, as the Queen would never approve, they stayed together throughout Charles' marriage to Diana.
On the surface, it would seem that the team who wrote Memphis, another musical about the ups and downs of fame, might be a good fit for this material. That turns out not to be the case. Mr. Bryan's relentless rock score is the primary first act culprit, though in act two he summons up greater variability of style. But Mr. DiPietro's book is at fault, as well. He has pegged each of his four major characters as a type and sticks with that error. Charles is a twit, Camila is a bore, and Diana is enamored with the spotlight. Only the queen, who is typed as "wise," emerges relatively unscathed.
The principals often get stuck in playing their types. Mr. Hartrampf is particularly guilty here, though he sings well. Ms. Davie's Camilla knows that she's boring but is smart enough to understand that Charles likes boring and that she might win in the end. Ms. Kaye manages to have a good deal of fun with a not very large role (more about her in a minute). And Ms. de Waal, like her character, sometimes seems bewildered, though she, too, sings well.
The real star of the show is fabled costume designer William Ivey Long, who has turned Diana into the equivalent of an awards show red carpetexcept that there's only one celebrity and no carpet. He's featured in a program essay, explaining how he designed 32 different looks for Diana and that he choreographed the various costume changes, some of which take place in front of the audience. He even gets the eleven o'clock number, primly titled "The Dress," but with a more profane refrain.
In Mr. Long's hands, Diana gets the royal treatment. By contrast, everyone else is confined to conservative and tailored outfits (Camilla has two suits, one for act one, and one for act two). The exception is Queen Elizabeth, who gets to dazzle at the top of act two. I expected Ms. Kaye to break into "You'll Be Back," from Hamilton, but, of course, she didn't. Too bad.
Director Christopher Ashley gives the production a lot of glitz, probably more than it needs. He's helped by a large and capable ensemble, which, true to form, he manages very well. He's also helped by Ian Eisendrath's musical direction, by much of Kelly Devine's choreography, by Natasha Katz's lighting design, and by Gareth Owen's sound design. He's not helped by David Zinn's scenic design, which features the worst elements of British royal architecture for no particularly good reason.
Diana has proven to be a big seller for La Jolla Playhouse and has been extended twice. Indeed, the performance I attended was full except, conspicuously, for a pair of seats in the center of the third row. I couldn't help but wonder if the seats' occupants had already heard the news.
Diana, through April 14, 2019, at La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla CA. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 858-550-1010 or by visiting LaJollaPlayhouse.org.
Additional Cast: Holly Ann Butler, Taylor Coleman, Eric Coles, Bruce Dow, Evan Duff, Madison Noelle Hall, Shaye Hopkins, Nicole Javier, Justin Keats, Gareth Keegan, Nathan Lucrezio, Tomas Matos, Allyn Moriyon, Lauren Livia Muehl, Jamen Nanthakumar, Enrico Nassi, Katheryne Penny, Lindsay Roberts, Tara Shoemaker and Bethany Ann Tesark.