Diana The Musical at The Eventim Apollo
If there was a competition over polarising musical then Diana has to be one of the favourites to win. For the UK audiences up until Monday night, this musical was only available via a Pro Shot on Netflix after the show played on Broadway for just 33 performances and 16 previews. The Pro Shot won worst picture, worst director, worst actress, worst supporting actress and worst screenplay at the Golden Raspberry Awards. However despite these less than illustrious awards the Pro Shot garnered a legion of British fans and Lambert Jackson and Cuffe and Taylor, the producers decided to give the fans what they wanted, a one night concert version of the show here in London.
Diana tells of Diana Princess of Wales’ life from her early meetings with Prince Charles (as he was then) through to Diana making strides with her charity work after her divorce. The concert finishes on a happier note that the Broadway show and in the concert we are left with hope that she can begin a new life for herself where as the Broadway musical touches on the tragic end to her life. Leaving this unspoken at end of the show meant that the audience potentially felt that they were left hanging. Whilst the subject itself is full of serious issues such as aids, adultery and Diana’s hounding from the press the show often has its tongue placed firmly in its cheek and pokes fun at itself pretty much from start to finish.
For the most part the show chooses to poke fun at itself and the sillier lines were revelled in however there were moments in the show where the book needs more thought, throwaway lines about Diana’s bulimia or her conversations with Aids patients were played for laughs and bordering on inappropriate. The show is at its best when it is at its campest and silliest and whilst some of the laughs it got may have been unintentional the writers really ned to lean into this further.
The concert also took a different approach in portraying Diana, on Broadway Diana was played by a singular actress but the concert took the approach of having an older Diana seemingly narrate the action throughout Act 1, looking back on her life whilst a younger Diana acted it out, the older Diana then stepped into this role in Act 2. This put an interesting slant on the show and made it slightly easier for Diana to poke fun at a younger version of herself as well as being there to put a realistic slant on what her younger self was going through at the time.
Diana was played by Kerry Ellis and Miya Quansah-Breed. Kerry Ellis played the older version of Diana and she was given ample opportunity to show off her powerhouse vocals. Quansah-Breed had a lot less to sing than Ellis but she did exude a warmth about her and seemed to her Diana’s vocal inflections down to a T.
There was a lot of material that was cut from the show as well as whole characters. This meant that some of the characters motivations are lost and one major impact of the cuts was to lose any sympathy that there may have been for Charles and Camilla’s relationship and instead they became almost like pantomime villains. Andy Coxon and Alice Fearn played these roles. Fearn really leant into this role and gave a huge amount of sass throughout. Whenever Fearn appeared on stage she was met with an audible audience reaction of booing (towards Camilla rather than Fearn herself I hasten to add) and this seemed to sum up the spirit of the evening. One of my highlights of the show was hearing Ellis and Fearn belt into each others faces during ‘The Main Event,’ with 2 of the UK’s best female vocalists sparring off each other it nearly made up for many of the technical faults I’ll discuss in a moment. Jay Perry played James Hewitt and whilst the whoops from the audience threatened to drown out his big moment he was made for the part, his voice effortlessly singing the huge number and oozing sex appeal. Perry also suffered from cuts to the show which not only decreased his stage time but also the chance to understand his relationship with Diana a bit better.
Denise Welch was an odd choice for the Queen as she is clearly not a singer. Whilst she got through many of the numbers by speak singing them, in a concert version of a show you expect the cast to all be able to do more than merely get through a number vocally.
There was a choir of 30 and a small ensemble of 10 and whilst they were clearly trying their best this felt unrehearsed. Many of their cues, were late and even things such as when the choir stood up was messy and distracting. The ‘choreography’ that the ensemble did perform felt basic and beneath what should be on a stage of that quality. At the best the audience were treated to a step touch and at worst we had Maiya Quansah- Breed stood on a chair with the ensemble seemingly freestyle in circles around her.
The technical side really let it down. Whilst it is understandable that one night concerts may not be perfect there were too many technical issues to be excused. The lighting plunged performers into darkness on occasion or failed to pick them up at all, including both the first moment and the last moment we see Diana on stage. The mic pick ups were often late and the sound quality also made it hard to hear the soloists lyrics.
Part of the appeal of the Pro Shot is the sheer extravagance of it, for example the actress playing Diana had 38 costume changes alone. This was very much scaled down, Kerry Ellis and Maiya Quansah-Breed were mostly styled in casual wear save for Quansah-Breed appearing in a version of the ‘revenge dress’ and Ellis sporting a black dress during ‘Pretty , Pretty Girl,’ Whilst the audience went wild for these 2 changes you couldn’t help but want and possibly need more to make this show succeed.
Diana the Musical was a memorable night for many many reasons, the book and lyrics clearly needs work and the technical side let it down badly yet despite these issues it was one of the most memorable nights I have had at the theatre in a long time and possibly the most fun!
You can find out more about Lambert Jackson on their website.