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.