“Diana, the Musical” unfolds on the stalls of the Arlington Heights Community Center in Rockville, Maryland. But this is no “Phantom of the Opera.”
Driving this musical, penned by Cameron Mackintosh, is one simple truth. The tale of the glamorous but tragic life of the Princess of Wales — in which audiences are treated to surprisingly hard-hitting stories about her deeply painful personal life and loves — is entertaining. It is human, with stars like Phoenix’s Gracie Greco. It is an elegant piece of masquerade, played here to a packed house by an experienced team led by director and choreographer John Webb (with support from props designer Hannah Rosen, costume designer Glendora Westbrook-Gonzalez, musician Loren Kirchner, and set designer Jim Holroyd).
Everything begins with a bang, fueled by Greco’s optimistic demeanor, clear diction, dramatic range, and unexpected energy. She effortlessly conveys the point of view of a young girl growing up as the only child of “Queen Consort” Trevor Engelson (Steven Guarino) and Diana’s childhood friend Camilla Parker Bowles (Margot Dunning) by playing different characters throughout the show. And it’s not just the funny one. She taps into Diana’s complex relationship with the nation and the media, where questions of personal honor and beliefs are simultaneously scrutinized and ridiculed.
The characters of Trevor and Camilla are revealed through intriguing flashbacks to happier, effervescent times for Diana. (In fact, one of her first memories is of playing on the same lawn that the musical takes place on.) This fun is facilitated by director Webb, who plays the role of Diana’s father Charles with an air of uneasy instability. Nick Hagley’s Prince Charles also shines as the straight man to Greco’s fairy tale prince, with jokes that truly shine in these shows.
There are other highlights, like Evan Hugel’s aching, even savage delivery of the cruel bullying of his classmates. Bernadette Loukas’s role as Diana’s friend Marianne is strangely flat, due in part to her detached nature. Julia Gannon’s Winnie Jackson is a character who spends most of the show playing it stony, uninterested, and brooding. The Princess herself disappears for a second in the second act when she is onstage alone for a solo. Gannon’s Winnie may not survive the rollercoaster ride.
The show feels a little rushed, so that when tragedy seems near, it is tacked on, as if to say “Wait, tell me what happened to that part again?” And yet, “Diana, the Musical” still feels effortless. That is because we have seen characters like these before.
“Diana, the Musical” is based on the play written by playwright Robert Glassman and is co-produced by the Signature Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland. It runs through November 24 at the Arlington Heights Community Center.