La Jolla Playhouse’s musical “Diana” has been extended for a second time through April 14. The world premiere work made its debut Feb. 18.
The musical is billed as a moving tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car accident in Paris in August 1997. She was the first wife of Britain’s Charles, Prince of Wales.
“I’ve always had this thing for Princess Diana,” said audience member Billie Wakeham, a 19-year-old SDSU student. Wakeham’s take has British roots; she was born and has lived in London.
“My mom can tell you the moment she found out Princess Diana died,” Wakeham said. “She was in disbelief. I remember her going to Buckingham Palace to place flowers.”
The play, written in musical vignettes, introduces then married Camilla Parker-Bowles as a continued love interest and mistress to Prince Charles throughout Diana’s marriage to him. Parker-Bowles is portrayed as even giving the prince the OK to marry the virgin Diana.
Diana, provides the crown with two heirs, princes William and Harry. Parker-Bowles eventually becomes Charles’ second wife.
The musical interweaves Diana’s emotional growth from the “crown approved virginal bride” to the emotional complexity of a woman who cheated on Charles after finding out about his mistress. Britain and eventually the globe fell in love and was fascinated by Diana.
Diana learned to use the press to leak her side of the “three-in-a-marriage” situation. The marriage ended in divorce.
The titles of the musical numbers themselves — “Once upon a Time,” “Whatever Love Means Anyway,” “The Wedding,” “As I Love You,” “Here Comes James Hewitt,” “Him & Her (& Him & Her),” “Secrets and Lies,” and more songs, show the fairy tale destructing. “If” addresses the end, Diana’s untimely death and an end to her emotional growth after being a palace-controlled wife.
Princess Diana’s charity work, which started even before she divorced, brought attention to a variety of subjects. She astounded with her bare handed handshakes with HIV positive patients; she brought attention to the dangers of landmines in Angola as well as her work with the homeless and other philanthropic efforts.
“Diana” is a trendsetter and costumer William Ivey Long takes full advantage of her style. From the signature wedding dress to the see-through kindergarten teacher dress and disco dress all lead an audience member through the stages of her growth in style.
The book and lyrics are by Joe Dipietro with music and lyrics by David Bryan. Scenic design, with the gates of Buckingham Palace as a background mainstay, set the royal stage. John Clancy directs the orchestra. Casting was by Telsey + Company and Rachel Hoffman, C.S.A.
What is obvious about the production is director Christopher Ashley’s ability to find and cast strong vocal talent. Diana (played by Jeanna de Waal), Queen Elizabeth (played by Judy Kaye), Camilla Parker Bowles (played by Erin Davie), and Prince Charles (played by Roe Hartrampf) all find the nuances, vocal range and vocal prowess to express each character’s unique situation via song in this doomed fairy tale.
Choreographer Kelly Devine mixes comic movements, traditional show-theater dancing, Diana’s modern disco-based sensibility set against Prince Charles level of dancing —staid and stiff — using individual dancers and the ensemble.
The creative team for “Diana” is stacked with former Tony Award winners, experienced stage performers, crew and administrative staff. If the production moves to Broadway, or when and where it goes on tour, is undetermined at this point.
What remains is Diana’s legacy — from her well-documented life to how her legacy plays out in her sons’ lives. American Meghan Markle, considered the first mixed-race woman to marry into the royal family, is married to Prince Harry.
La Jolla Playhouse is located on the campus of the UC San Diego. For more information, visit the website at www.lajollaplayhouse.org.