Will ‘Diana,’ the musical, be as ill-fated as the people’s princess?

| April 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

“It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May,” as Lerner and Lowe wrote in their musical, “Camelot.” Spring has sprung! Announcements blossom like crocuses, as theaters reopen from London to Los Angeles: the Globe, Shakespeare in the Park, our own Hollywood Bowl. The Fountain Theater will turn its East Hollywood parking lot into an outdoor theater for a production this summer (no details yet on where you actually park, but…).  And yet…

Netflix (now a theatrical juggernaut) has announced that it will stream “Diana,” the musical about the ill-fated British princess, in October, before the show (hopefully) opens in New York two months later. Producer and film-maker Frank Marshall, quoted in the “New York Times” (3/30/21) said, “I think people will see the movie, and will say, that’s a show I want to see in person.”

Marshall, along with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, is one of the founders of Amblin Entertainment and a multiple Academy Award winner and nominee. His grasp of popular culture is much greater than my own. But, having been trained by the Jesuits, I fail to see the logic in his argument (even though part of me hopes he is right).

Let’s put an event on TV (to use the old term), where a family can sit and watch it for twenty bucks (or so), while eating a pizza in their jammies (they are in their pajamas, not the pizza), and then say: “I know, honey: let’s spend three or four thousand dollars to fly to New York, rent a Covid-proofed hotel room, and see the show we just saw, along with one or two other shows that might be playing on the Great White Way.” Possible, but I think unlikely.

Marshall, whom I applaud for his theatrical optimism, is, at age 74, three years older than I am, and I think I know whence both his optimism and (if I may be so bold) his logical flaw, derive.


In the 1950s and ’60s, television was both aspirational and hierarchical. Networks carried programs such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” and productions of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” and condensed versions of Broadway plays were shown on “Playhouse 90” and the like. There was more than a little cultural elitism behind all this (let alone institutional racism) that basically treated “art” like Popeye’s spinach: you consumed it because it would make you a better person. Shows like Ed Sullivan’s would have (between the Beatles, the comics, and the jugglers) Jan Peerce and Beverly Sills from the opera, or Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet doing a scene from “Camelot,” which, in 1960, had just opened on Broadway, and was having trouble gaining an audience.

Andrews remembers in her autobiography (“Home: A Memoir of My Early Years”) that during the musical excerpts on TV, “… there was palpable electricity that night. The following morning there was a line of people outside the theater and around the block queuing for tickets. Sales skyrocketed and ‘Camelot’ was, at last, a big hit.” Thank you, Ed Sullivan! Thank you, television! Thank you … Netflix?

A line queued outside the box office? Everyone watching the same show on Sunday night at 8 p.m.? How quaint. My parents — as did Mr. Marshall’s — went to the theater as a result of what they saw on TV, and it was a big deal. But TV quickly became a “vast wasteland,” and cable news and networks such as MTV drove multiple wedges into an audience that now shares almost nothing in common.

Will a musical about the “people’s princess” get us off our couches? Perhaps, although the cultural moment might be better geared to a rock opera about the “Tiger King.” Who knows?

I think I’ll wait — and maybe try and find a Youtube clip of Burton and Andrews wondering “what the king is doing tonight.” The pizza at home is pretty good!

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Category: Entertainment

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