The South Korean owned Lotte New York Palace has always cultivated an air of sophistication, but the hotel’s Madison Room was extraordinarily regal last Thursday afternoon as it welcomed the cast and creative team of the upcoming Broadway musical Diana.
Manhattan Digest, along with several other press members crowded into the upscale space to meet and greet these theater makers. After a solo performance by Jeanna de Waal, who was accompanied on the piano by the show’s composer (and Bon Jovi keyboardist) David Bryan, a question and answer session followed.
Book-writer Joe DiPietro spoke about his inspiration for the story. “I was initially struck by her enormous sense of empathy. She had this almost supernatural sense of walking into a room and wanting to help people. I thought it was such a wonderful trait to have as a human being and what a wonderful trait for the leading character in a musical to have.”
The show premiered on the West Coast in 2019 at La Jolla Playhouse where it received numerous extensions. “The idea of the first production was to learn,” said Bryan. “There were some good parts and some great parts, but we wanted to make the good great. I think-and hope—that we’ve achieved a level of greatness now,” he added.
Both DiPietro and Bryan are aware of the world’s infatuation with Diana and the Royal family.” Americans knew her as the beautiful princess and they knew about the wedding and all of her charity work. The Brits think it’s complicated: Did she help or hurt the royal family?”, he questioned. “I think the reason two Americans wrote this show is because we have a bit of distance.” Bryan is most excited “to be able to tell the human story in all of this.”
Director Christopher Ashley (Come From Away), spoke of his fondness for Diana. “She was so young and so romantic. Most of the books she read were these romantic fiction novels about finding love in castles. She’s the only person who got that dream and then realized it’s not all that good,” he said. “Then she developed a second dream which is so much powerful and contemporary.”
Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine exhaustively researched their subject before approaching the work. “There are at least 45 biographies of Diana and Charles,” Ashley noted. “Type in anything in google and there are pages and pages. I was surprised that Camilla picked Diana for Charles,” he said.
Devine was shocked to find a video of Prince Charles break-dancing. How does she plan to move the Royals onstage? “Diana was actually a ballet dancers, so finding moments like that have really helped. Also, the paparazzi were pretty villainous so how the family moved away from them was interesting to explore. There are some unexpected, abstract production numbers but they work because Diana had so much life in her,” she said, adding that Diana was “cool, stylish, and bold.”
Stage veteran and two time Tony winner Judy Kaye will assume the coveted role of Queen Elizabeth. She spoke about the real-life figure. “I was really struck by how she had to react to all of this and how much falls to her to make some of these decisions. She is the final word on so much in her family and her country. Yet she’s constrained to a certain degree by what the Government tells her she can or can’t do. With so many performers who have inhabited the role, how does she plan to make it her own? “It’s my own because I’m doing it. That’s it,” she said diplomatically. “I have so loved all the other actors have done with this role. I’m just thrilled to be in the pantheon of people who have played this part.” Kaye was always fascinated, but never considered herself a Royal watcher, “But I’m a dramatic person and am always interested when there is a story with good drama in it.”
Diana begins previews on Monday, March 2, 2020, and opens on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th St). For tickets and info visit Diana Musical