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Arts | Culture

La Jolla Playhouse’s new musical ‘Diana’ is headed to Broadway this spring

diananew.jpg
Jeanna de Waal, Roe Hartrampf and Tomas Matos (from left) in the La Jolla Playhouse production of “Diana.”
(Little Fang)

Producers of the world-premiere show announce it will open in New York this March, with Jeanna de Waal returning to her role as the late Princess Diana

“Diana” has a date with Broadway.

Producers of the La Jolla Playhouse-launched show about the late Princess Diana announced Monday that the piece will begin previews at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre on March 2, with an official opening set for March 31.

The producers — Grove Entertainment, Frank Marshall and The Araca Group — also announced that Jeanna de Waal will reprise her turn in the title role of the musical, which is directed by Playhouse artistic chief Christopher Ashley.

Likewise returning from the Playhouse production are Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles; Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles; and Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth.

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“Diana,” which had its world premiere at the Playhouse last winter, is directed by the theater’s artistic chief, Christopher Ashley, a Tony Award winner in 2017 for the likewise Playhouse-bred “Come From Away.”

The musical from writer-lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer David Bryan — Ashley’s collaborators on the Playhouse-bred, Tony Award-winning “Memphis” — dramatizes Diana’s rise to prominence, her rifts with the British royal family, her charity work and her struggles to deal with a faltering marriage to Charles.

In a phone interview from New York Monday, Ashley said the show that Broadway audiences will see differs significantly from what Playhouse audiences witnessed.

“We learned so much in La Jolla from our audiences,” said Ashley. “We’re about to go back into workshop (next month in New York) with the first act — a pretty radically overhauled first act. We cut five songs, wrote four more and really kind of reworked the narrative in Act 1.

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“The main thing we focused on is, how do we get Diana fighting for something earlier? We felt like Diana needs to kind of gear up and engage and be an active participant in her own story earlier than happened in the La Jolla draft.”

In the course of the revamp, Ashley said, the show has become “more of a rock opera than we were in La Jolla. It’s actually less book and more sung-through. And we felt that in Act 2, there was a lot tonally about it that was theatrical and playful, and so we grabbed that tone earlier on in the show.”

Ashley said the lead role taken on by the returning de Waal “is incredibly demanding. But I have to say, she has been a real company leader in passion about telling Diana’s story.

“We’ve all done a lot of research, but she is probably one of the world’s greatest authorities on Diana at this point,” he adds with a laugh. “That’s how deep a dive she’s taken.”

And “if there was a surprise to me at La Jolla,” says Ashley, “it’s how personally everyone feels about Diana. Everybody brings in this very intense relationship with her. So they watch it as if it’s a person they feel they know — or at least know deeply about.

“That’s so interesting, watching an audience watch a show about someone they REALLY care about.”

And the fascination with Diana “hasn’t calmed down. She was at the center of a tornado of attention in her lifetime — and she’s still front-page news.”

Updates:
3:26 PM, Aug. 12, 2019: This story was updated with comments from “Diana” director and La Jolla Playhouse artistic chief Christopher Ashley.

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