Die, Die, Diana
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2004
Die, Die, Diana is the musical that was denied permission to perform in the United Kingdom because (a) it suggests that some members of the British royal family have copulated with horses, and (b) it suggests that other members of the royal family conspired to murder Princess Diana. I guess that stuff is kind of seditious; happily, we live in the United States, where—so far—nobody prevents you from putting on stage whatever you want.
So we get to see Die, Die, Diana at FringeNYC, courtesy of hope theatre, inc., in a fizzily ingratiating production staged by Kelly McAllister. It is, as you have probably already figured out, mostly a musical satire, not only of events surrounding the life and death of the Princess, but also of our obsession with celebrity; librettist/lyricist Scott Sublett and composer Jef Labas make their points, with virtually no subtlety, via pastiche, appropriating a whole host of musical theatre styles in a theatrical free-for-all that is frequently fun, fitfully smart, and constantly surprising. There is, for example, a scene in which the Queen Mother—played in drag as a sort of British Barbara Bush by the hilarious R. Paul Hamilton—chides her daughter Queen Elizabeth II (Heather McAllister, in a glittery tiara, faux red ermine robe, and bedroom slippers) about the poor romantic choices made by her children, with rude references to Fergie and Prince Edward's apparent fondness for "members" of the Royal Navy. (The Queen Mum delights in that last joke.) Elsewhere, the Queen complains about her mother's chronic farting, and Prince Charles is seen with Camilla Bowles-Parker in a leather S&M harness. Dodi Fayed is portrayed as a callow disco bunny who mangles the English language and pays paparazzi to catch him in flagrante with Diana; Prince William is played by an actress, Jackie Kamm, who also "plays" Prince Harry, represented by a fuzzy teddy bear puppet. (Kamm gets one of the show's finest moments, as Harry, delivering a pertinent passage from Richard III.)
There are flashbacks involving Aristotle Onassis (Hamilton again) and Marilyn Monroe (Aida Lembo). There's a Music Hall-style turn by the elderly member of Her Majesty's Secret Service who has been enlisted to knock off the Princess, entitled "I'm Too Old for This Sort of Thing" (delightfully delivered by Matthew Rankin, who doubles on guitar for most of the show). There are several "invisible dogs"; a Myrmidon who moves, and sometimes functions as, the scenery; and a big, bubbly title number in which the Queen Mother and ensemble look forward to Diana's imminent murder for the sake of the perpetuation of the monarchy. The whole shebang is narrated by a reporter called Johnny Swift, who professes his love for the dead Diana even as he feeds off her fame.
It's not always in particularly good taste, nor does it always hit its targets; it's probably several scenes too long. But McAllister has staged it with enormous verve, and his company of terrific actors give it all they've got—the ones I haven't mentioned thus far are Bob D'Haene (Charles), Beth Ann Leone (Camilla), Vinnie Penna (Dodi), Dan O'Neill (Myrmidon), and Jack Halpin (Johnny). At the center of it all is Ashley Wren Collins as the sad and misunderstood title character, pretty much a ringer physically for the real thing, particularly in the evocative designer outfits provided by costumer Betty Poindexter.
The songs, by the way, are mostly a hoot; Ayhan Sahin is the very talented musical director.