Spoleto 2017 » Theater

The re-singing of Princess Diana's sad tale isn’t a crowning achievement

Di-Mania da Musical – The Princess Reigns

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Bowlers and fascinators off to Kirk and Scott Pfeiffer, the co-founders and artistic directors of James Island’s Charleston Performing Arts Center, for attempting nothing other than the Camelot or King Lear of the tabloid era. Princess Diana is tough material — an icon beyond icon for anyone who had a television or a People Magazine subscription in the '80s and '90s. We adored her doe-eyed beauty and the mythology we made of her innocent kindergarten-teacher charm. And we couldn’t for the life of us see what she saw in that twit Charles, beyond the crown, of course.

In Princess Diana, The Musical, we hear a slightly different tune, one in which the wickedly handsome Sean Yves Lessard as the Camilla-smitten Charles, comes across as sympathetic, the victim of Di’s emotional instability. We see the deal with the devil that a too-young and naïve Diana made when she gave us the Wedding of the Century, her sacrifice at the altar.

The casting in this small production is top-notch, with Lessard, he of square jaw and dreamy eyes, paired with the gleaming Elysia Jordan as Diana, leading the way. Both are solid vocalists, which helps in a musical, and both have a charisma and magnetism that pulls the audience along, which also helps in this tiny cabaret-style theater. If they weren’t talented and attractive it’d be an unpleasant hour and a half, even if the score was Rogers-and-Hammerstein-sing-along fab, which sadly it is not.

As in real life, the ever-likable, ever-relatable Fergie, played by an exuberant Maddie Casto, steals the show. Her voice booms; her body elevates bigness into ballet. You love every minute she’s on stage. Likewise Scott Pfeiffer totally nails the constrained, proper Prince Phillip, and Myra Whittemore shines as the Queen Mum. There’s a bawdy little number with Phillip and Queen Elizabeth suggesting that life in the castle is not all curtseying and bows — wish there’d been a bit more of that sauciness tossed in the hour-and-a half performance.

Overall the production is solid enough, with terrific costumes (Di’s impeccable style still holds up), clever lyrics, and strong performances by supporting cast members, including CofC student Cat Morrison as the temptress Camilla, the adorable Prince William, played by local 8th grader Julian Ford, and Khawon Porter’s paparazzi. And though the audio had problems (a persistent buzz from an ungrounded plug, a too-loud electric piano), I kind of liked the ironic juxtaposition of this tragic tale of royal gloss and glam being presented in a venue that is pretty homespun. Buckingham Palace CPAC is not. But maybe that’s part of the point. Buckingham Palace isn’t really even Buckingham Palace, at least not the mirage we make of it.

Spoiler alert – there’s not a happy ending to Di and Charles’ drama. You won’t leave the Folly Road theater whistling a jaunty tune, but you will perhaps ponder and imagine how it all could have been different, how we—the paparazzi-encouraging public—were complicit in the whole desperate affair. Yes, even as we scroll through Pippa’s wedding pics; even as we pine over William and Kate and the future kings on Instagram and Twitter.

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