Netflix’s obsession with the British Royal Family continues, as they prepare to release ‘Diana: A New Musical’ on their platform in the coming months. The precise release date has not yet been announced but is set to be before the end of May.
The mysterious release date is reasonable, following the previous unsuccessful attempts to show the musical. Originally supposed to be released in 2020, with previews happening on March 2nd, before people referred to Corona as anything other than the beer. Then, the premiere date changed to May 25th 2021, hoping that the world would have recovered by then, but, alas, Netflix is to premiere the performance, before its first live production.
‘Diana: A New Musical’ will be filmed at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway, without an audience. Irrespective of the fact that Diana was an international icon, surely being such a British story, the premiere should have been in the West End? Regardless, this is the first time that a musical will be streamed before its live performance – a large landmark in the world of live theatre. What will this mean for the future? It certainly puts a lot of pressure on this musical’s success, which is already controversial in nature.
On the musical’s website, creators claim that “‘Diana’ brings us face-to-face with one of the 20th century’s most compelling figures in this landmark musical event.” However, if you want to be brought face-to-face with Diana, Netflix has already had you covered. There are multiple Docuseries available, including ‘The Story of Diana,’ ‘Diana – 7 Days That Shook the World’ and ‘The Royal House of Windsor.’ There is also a brilliant 2017 documentary, Diana in Her Own Words, and a relatively unsuccessful biopic ‘Diana,’ which received 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite starring Naomi Watts.
Of course, also on Netflix is the original series ‘The Crown,’ based on the lives of the Royal Family, controversial due to the discussions raised about how far the writers can fictionalise while claiming that their storyline is ‘based on true events.’ The scriptwriter, Peter Morgan, addressed this criticism, claiming that “Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake the truth.” In short, there has to be room for the dramatising of real-life events in film and television; otherwise, we call the entire industry into question. Notably, in the Royal Family’s case, where the relationship between Charles and Diana was fiction in itself, allowing room for focus on specific elements and exclusion of others. During her lifetime, and after her death, Diana was a celebrity, and never even saw herself as a future queen. She belonged to the public and continues her reign as an influential figure, who deserves to have her story told, regardless of biases or controversy that follows.
Despite the inevitable controversy that a musical based on this beloved historical figure will cause, I have faith in the production of ‘Diana: A New Musical’ for two key reasons. Firstly, the Tony-Award winning writers, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan created the successful musical ‘Memphis,’ based on real-life disc-jockey Dewey Phillips. Therefore, they are experienced in recreating the life of a non-fiction character on stage, and their recreation was very popular. Secondly, the director and choreographer worked together on ‘Come From Away,’ which I believe is one of the best musicals ever performed. It is based on travellers’ lives during the 9/11 tragedy, who are forced to live together in a small island in Canada, while air travel was stopped. A real, humbling, terribly sad story, which was communicated brilliantly onstage. There is little doubt that a director and choreographer could do so well on ‘Come From Away,’ and not have the same effect on another musical with the sensitive subject matter.
However, my faith is compromised when looking at some of the cheesy lyrics. To give some examples, lines such as “Fairy tales exist, and this one has a twist” and “The tabloids tell her story but that story’s incomplete,” just don’t feel like the words from Tony-Award winners, but perhaps from young children in a poetry class. Furthermore, the lines from the song’ Happiness/Simply Breathe,’ are almost vomit-worthy; when William is born, Diana sings, “You’re simply my heart, lying there,” and when Harry is born, “You’ll always be second to none.” When listening to the songs online, they seem catchy, but the lyrics are far from incredible.
That said, who knows? It is difficult to tell whether this musical will be a success or a failure, without it being aired yet. However, when there is so little theatre performed, it is exciting to think that a musical will be seen on stage, despite not being live, and being premiered on Netflix!
Image Credit: Verity Laycock