Diana the Musical – Netflix review
It's bad, yes
A new musical steered by the director and choreographer of Come From Away, with tunes from a Bon Jovi band member and lyrics by Tony Award-winning musical Memphis: seems like a pretty palatable offering, right?
Wrong – but the credentials behind the Diana musical, which has been, for some unfathomable reason, launched on Netflix before it hits the Broadway stage later this year (it was taped during lockdown last summer) are relatively chunky. There are a lot of theatre awards and top-notch creatives behind the project, which leaps onto the Royal bandwagon with unapologetic glee.
The question is – is the musical bad because it handles the subject of Diana Spencer poorly, or is it simply a bad production full stop? The answer to both, it's relatively unpleasant to state, is yes: there's probably a reason why this show wasn't sent to critics before its unceremonious dumping on Netflix on Friday (it's taken a weekend to digest, so excuse the lateness of this review).
The plot, which charts Diana's courtship through to her arrival at superstar status after the collapse of her marriage (tastefully the events that come later are only alluded to), is basically what you'd get from someone writing an entry on SparkNotes after watching season four of The Crown on 2x speed at 10am on a Sunday while nursing a monster-level hangover. The evil photographers, the unreciprocating prince, the Machiavellian Camilla are all present in this bloated, poorly-lit experience, with mundane, repetitive choreography, tacky two-dimensional sets, underwhelmingly artificial costumes and instantly forgettable tunes.
Funnily enough, having gone over and re-watched it (though perhaps sacrilegious to admit) Diana is actually significantly better if you do watch it at a faster pace using Netflix's speed function, where it ends up like some gawky British attempt to replicate Hamilton ("Darling I'm holding our son, so let me say 'jolly well done'".)
It's all an underwhelming, unpleasant endeavour that has little to say and far too long to say it in. One number, focussing on Diana's wedding, seems to just be the words "I Will" repeated over and over again.
Launching a musical about such a high-profile subject matter was never going to end well – and placing it in front of the largest audience imaginable online may simply draw longer and a larger flock of knives. So the question comes back to: "why?"
What's sad is that with the pile-on the Netflix release has received, already the wider musical theatre community is seemingly tarred by the same brush. "I've always said musicals, as an art form, should be banned from society and this has only hardened my stance", one BBC reporter splurges onto Twitter.
Like a barking puppy, the best course of action is just to ignore it: so please, rather than watching Diana, go, look and pay for new musicals either online or on stage – those full to the brim with fresh ideas ready to reinvent the form. They aren't hard to find, we cover them every day. Alternatively/additionally, hang fire for the new film version of Jonathan Larson's tick, tick...boom!, being released on Netflix next month.
They'll be so much more interesting than this royal mess. "We dare you to look away", one lyric states. It should be a recommendation.