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By this point, any new work about someone as exhaustively chronicled and analyzed as Princess Diana has an obligation to shed fresh light on her short, turbulent life, or at least make an honest attempt to understand her.

But to judge by the unpleasant aroma of exploitation that suffuses the superficial “Diana: The Musical,” which was filmed for streaming on Netflix and opens on Broadway next month, cashing in on her name and enduring mystique is the primary motive behind its creation.

As biography, “Diana” is shallow and reductive, checking the boxes of an extremely well-known story with numbing predictability. As musical theater, “Diana” is a forgettable farrago of painfully on-the-nose lyrics and clashing song styles that ventures perilously close to camp.


And in those moments when “Diana” deliberately tries to be camp — as with scenes involving Barbara Cartland, the romance novelist and Diana’s step-grandmother, swathed in pink — it’s somehow even worse.

Little if any blame should be assigned to star Jeanna de Waal, familiar to local theatergoers for her roles in “Waitress” and “Finding Neverland” at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater. While de Waal’s portrayal of Diana pales next to Emma Corrin’s acutely perceptive characterization in “The Crown,” Corrin had Peter Morgan’s dialogue to work with. In “Diana,” de Waal has to essentially fight against the material, and it’s to her credit that the actress sometimes prevails.

Jeanna De Waal in the musical "Diana."
Jeanna De Waal in the musical "Diana." SARA KRULWICH/New York Times

Diana was 36 when she died in a 1997 car crash in Paris while being pursued by paparazzi, a fate prefigured in “Diana,” when dozens of flashbulbs burst like exploding stars and the stage is filled with predatory Fleet Street photographers in (anachronistic) fedoras and trench coats.

At the claustrophobic center of the musical, inevitably, is Diana’s disastrous marriage to Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf). We meet her as a bashful 19-year-old in a red sweater, and watch her evolve into a confident fashion icon. His wife’s popularity with the public kindles Charles’s jealousy, and soon Diana sinks into palace isolation and endless quarreling with the prince, who refuses to give up his affair with longtime inamorata Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie).


Diana grows more assertive in her marriage, though she pays a punishing price, with references in the musical to her eating disorder and suicide attempts. She becomes a committed humanitarian and activist on issues ranging from the treatment of AIDS to the banning of landmines. She has an affair with a cavalry officer. The tabloids turn on her. She tells her side of the story to author Andrew Morton. Queen Elizabeth (Judy Kaye) demands that her son and daughter-in-law mend their marriage. They don’t.

All of it is wearyingly familiar, and little of it is rendered with more than Lifetime movie-style cliché. (Here’s hoping “Spencer,” slated for release next month, with Kristen Stewart as the princess, finds a way to avoid those pitfalls.) The musical is punctuated by groaners like this sung advice from the queen and the prince to the newly-minted young princess on the correct way to interact with their subjects. Charles: “Never let any feelings intrude,” followed by Elizabeth: “So go with Windsor fortitude.”

In keeping with the prevailing public narrative, Charles is presented as a heartless prig, virtually a cartoon villain. His infamous “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” uttered in response to an interviewer’s question on whether the young couple were, crops up a couple of times in “Diana” as a kind of self-indictment. Hartrampf doesn’t flesh out this caricature; his portrayal is mostly devoid of any suggestion that Charles might have a complex inner life, unlike Josh O’Connor’s performance as the prince in, yes, “The Crown.”


The normally reliable Kaye, a Broadway veteran, does little to reveal the layers that might lie beneath the queen’s public permafrost.

The curious thing about this musical misfire is that the creative team is packed with Tony Award winners, including director Christopher Ashley (”Come From Away”), with script and songs by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, who collaborated a decade ago on “Memphis.”

Choreographer Kelly Devine has devised some snappy dance routines that approach, if not quite match, the energy and expressivity of her creations for “Come From Away,” while costume designer William Ivey Long impressively re-creates Diana’s look during both her dowdy and couture phases. Several costume changes are executed with sleight-of-hand speed.

But audiences seldom flock to shows for the costumes. We’ll see what happens when “Diana” opens on Broadway, but it’s hard to picture advance sales being boosted by this filmed performance.



Directed by Christopher Ashley. Written by Joe DiPietro. Starring Jeanna de Waal, Roe Hartrampf, Erin Davie, Judy Kaye. Streaming on Netflix. 117 minutes. PG-13 (language, suggestive and thematic material).

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.