Most musicals are about a story that starts with an inspiring narrative arc of real-life events — in Diana: The Musical’s case, the British Princess’s inevitable tragic death in 1997 — and stays there. Diana: The Musical begins in a new spotlight — with a cast of over two dozen professional actors playing famous people and then shows off some dance moves with balletic fluidity, all against a score that blends rock with some variety of jazz dance beats.
The very same 16 musicians also step in to provide what sounds like a massive jazz band, standing onstage and standing far, far back, dressed for the era of shows like “Chicago” and “Rent.”
“Diana” is a musical that champions the life and tragically sad death of Diana, but otherwise trades on a cavalcade of generic songs delivered in less than impressive ensembles. The story — penned by Martyn Ware, the same man who gave us “Not the Bride” and “Running Through Walls” — is akin to a generic Hollywood movie adaptation of reality. Much like a movie, the spectacle of the show is emphasized but the emotional and the actual experiences aren’t.
Despite its tale line, “Diana: The Musical” lacks realism and is entirely unrealistic. There are no genuine or authentic performances. Nobody’s real. In a plot that will definitely get you cried out of your mind, “Diana” depicts an authentic Queen (Elen Lacey) attempting to defy her monarchy, while we get played for laughs with a Tony Award-winning actress who hammed it up in “Waitress.” The musical has more people playing an idiot than there are real characters on the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House.
Soprano Meghan Mooney dons an awful hairstyle in “I Am Your Queen,” a song performed by Mooney at length against a series of stripped back disco-like lights. Mooney’s chemistry with her co-star in the role of the Prince of Wales, Jason Tam (a lauded ballerina in “War Paint” at New York City’s Theatre for a New Audience), never takes shape.
There is hardly any chemistry between Tam and one of the leading females (Lauren Lovette as Camilla Parker Bowles). This is just an excuse to hear Tam and Lovette mug to the audience. Other than the story line (which, much like the movie “A Royal Night Out” it’s based on), there’s not much else that brings you into “Diana.”
That’s where the songwriting comes in. Two of the best, “Cherish Me” and “Stand By Me,” show the seamier side of the royal family that hasn’t been seen on stage since real-life affairs were trumpeted. That’s never the sort of thing the royal family would be willing to take on in an attempt to show the public the “real” Diana and the “real” Camilla.
Another standout, “She Loves Me (Cause I Love Her),” stands out from the rest of the soundtrack as something that actually finds lyrics that are clever. Although the performers have a lot of vocal airtime to fill during the show, they always sound clear and their songs are memorable.
If it were up to me, I would have skipped “Diana” on my way out of the Kennedy Center Opera House on Wednesday night. The show can’t be any worse than it is, but it’s uncomfortable to sit through and require your four eyes at the same time. I wish I’d set that too.
Diana: The Musical runs through Aug. 25 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. Tickets are $85 to $175. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.