This is the story of a Broadway musical about Princess Diana. You probably know the plot already!
"She was a phenomenon, and she single-handedly transformed the Royal Family from basically a domestic institution into a global firm," said Andrew Morton, author of "Diana: Her True Story," the 1992 book that revealed Diana's unhappiness.
"Prince Charles had had this relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. As [Diana] famously said, there were three of them in the marriage, so it was rather crowded."
Correspondent David Pogue notes that the story of this musical's journey falls neatly into three acts.
Act I: A Show Is Born
"I just happened to be reading about her," said Joe De Pietro, "and I thought, 'This is a great idea for a story and a musical.'
De Pietro and composer David Bryan began writing the show In 2016.
"It's a show where there are no villains; it's just people trying to make things work in a very difficult situation," De Pietro said.
"There are no villains?" asked Pogue. "You're the guy who rhymed 'Camilla' with 'Godzilla!'"
"But it's through Diana's eyes," De Pietro replied.
They approached Christopher Ashley, artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse in California, about directing. "Our story takes us from when Diana was 19, the day she meets Prince Charles, to the divorce," he said. "So, it really is a story of a marriage."
"It's a little soap opera-y," said Pogue.
"Plus it has history," Ashley said. "For me, the moment that I really got into Diana was when I saw the picture of her shaking hands with a young man with AIDS. And that really moved me a lot."
Now all they had to do was find themselves a Diana. They found her in Jeanna De Waal.
Ashley said, "Jeanna walked in and she was absolutely definitive in her first audition."
De Waal told Pogue, "My whole preparation began with watching all the countless YouTube videos we have – how did she move? How did she hold herself? How did she speak?"
"And how about the accent?"
"Yes, I'm British, but she has a totally different accent," said De Waal. "I think my normal accent definitely fluctuates a lot. But Diana sort of talks a lot more forward, you know? Very forward and quite nasal, and very articulated."
For Diana aficionados, Diana's biggest costar might well be her costumes. William Ivey Long has designed the costumes for 75 Broadway shows, but he really wanted this one. "This is the closest to my heart of any show that I've ever worked on," he said.
"Because the main character is known for her fashion, right?" said Pogue. "I mean, the wedding dress is famous. The revenge dress is famous."
"The John Travolta dress!" said Long. "She was famous for, among other things, her fashion sense. Everyone wanted to see her. Everyone wanted to be her."
During the course of the show, De Waal wears 34 different outfits. Pogue said, "By my calculations, that's less than four minutes per outfit. How do you do that? I mean, is it Velcro?"
"It's a secret," Long smiled.
"It's Velcro!" Pogue insisted.
"I can guarantee you, there is not an ounce of Velcro in any of these things," Long laughed.
After a successful tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse, it was all-systems-go for a Broadway opening in March 2020.
And then, the curtain fell.
De Waal recalled, "We arrive ready for our daily notes session, and our lead producer gave us the news that the whole of Broadway was closing for a bit."
COVID-19 closed the "Diana" musical before it had even opened.
Act II: Netflix
Director Christopher Ashley said, "The creative team started meeting the day after Broadway shut down. We wrote a new song and really did major reworking of the first act. And then, the Netflix possibility came up."
The show's producers had struck a deal to film this Broadway musical that had never actually opened on Broadway. And so, in the thick of the pandemic, in August 2020, the cast spent four weeks living in an isolation bubble, rehearsing for the Netflix shoot in their empty theater.
Pogue asked, "Nobody said, 'Who's gonna buy a ticket to a show if they've seen it on TV'?"
"I think that's turned out not to be true," said Ashley. "If you think about, like, the impact that the 'Chicago' movie had, it's still running on Broadway, the live show. I do actually think people want to see something live for themselves that they've experienced on film."
The Netflix film of "Diana" will become available on October 1.
To watch a preview of Netflix's filmed performance of "Diana: The Musical," click on the video player below:
Act III: Back to Broadway
A few weeks ago, "Sunday Morning" sat down with Jeanna De Waal, who will be putting on Diana's blonde wigs once again when the show finally opens in November.
"How was your pandemic?" Pogue asked.
"Longer than expected!" she laughed.
"I can't really think of what it would be like – I mean, you are re-rehearsing a show that you've already re-rehearsed twice!"
"It really is like a third wedding!" De Waal laughed.
"At this moment, you've been with the show for five years, you still don't know if it's a hit?"
"We really don't! But we're gonna find out really quickly, really quickly! Because the release of Netflix means we're not just gonna be judged by the New York stage critics; it means we're gonna be judged by everybody all at once, which I'm kind of pleased about."
The Broadway show begins previews November 2 … at least, if things don't change again.
Pogue said, "Now, I hate to be That Guy, but right now, this story has a nice three-act structure. Show meets Broadway; Show loses Broadway; Show gets Broadway. But this Delta variant … is there any worry?
"Well, of course there's worry," De Waal said. "I mean, how could you not be worried? But that is just the nature of being an artist. You have to sort of surrender and have faith."
For more info:
- "Diana: The Musical" at the Longacre Theatre, New York City beginning November 2 | Tickets
- "Diana: The Musical" (Netflix), debuts October 1
- "Diana: Her True Story, In Her Own Words" by Andrew Morton (Simon & Schuster), available in Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio formats via Amazon and Indiebound
Story produced by Julie Kracov. Editor: Karen Brenner.
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