Queen of Hearts

Perhaps the most appalling moment in the recent history of Western democracy was watching the British mourn Princess Diana. The spectacle of millions of people weeping for their historical oppressors— the monarchy and the aristocracy— got pretty damn depressing.

Class politics don't bother Stephen Stahl and Claudia Perry, though, judging by their Princess Di musical, Queen of Hearts. The hagiography has all the familiar elements: the storybook wedding, the infidelities, the drugs, the kids, the bulimia, the liberating divorce, the fatal accident in Paris. The play was mounted at the Grove Street Playhouse earlier this season, in a deeply earnest production that became a lovable bit of kitsch— the photo cutouts of London landmarks that served as the set were particularly touching. The current version is more ambitious, but its stepped-up production values drain the project of a lot of its accidental charm. Instead of community-center innocence, the piece now feels like vaguely greasy showbiz. While actor James A. Walsh has happily returned as wooden Prince Charles (complete with little braces that make his ears stick out), director Stahl has unfortunately recast Diana, replacing porcelain-hued Kendra Munger with Paula Leggett Chase. While she sings just fine, Chase is a ham— so full of muggy facial tics it's as if a number of small animals were living under her skin. (Neither is a Diana look-alike— for that you'd need Wayne Gretzky.) The show still has its pleasures— Perry's tunes are passable, her lyrics occasionally witty— but it rarely transcends the ludicrousness of most musical theater.

"Be true to yourself," argues Queen of Hearts, as it deifies a member of the aristocracy. Perhaps not bad advice. But with due respect to the dead, it's worth remembering that the "People's Princess" sure didn't die in a coal miner's Mercedes.


Queen of Hearts
Book by Stephen Stahl, music and lyrics by Claudia Perry
Harold Clurman Theater

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