Just before the pandemic, I ambivalently witnessed a performance of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”. I knew a few Tina Turner songs and was vaguely aware of her marriage to the abusive Ike Turner. I barely knew his global fame and was skeptical of the depth that a biographical musical could offer.
Although I had qualms about the show – especially the depictions of violence – I left the theater feeling exuberant. I squeezed in towards the end of what turned out to be essentially a post-show gig, but I clung to the image of Adrienne Warren, as Turner, on stage.
What resonated with me was his spectacular star power – what most people would call presence. This is always what attracts me about Broadway productions of iconic characters: how the impersonation of an actor can also be a way to showcase his own star quality.
Whether or not the show lives up to the legend, however, is often another story.
With Broadway’s resurrection this fall will come another handful of knockoffs to test the hypothesis. From November 2, we will see Jeanna de Waal as the Princess of Wales in ‘Diana’, who thanks to her style, charisma and, ultimately, her tragic death, has become a mythical figure.
Diana is once again at the center of cultural conversation, whether in “The Crown”; as a shadow figure in the royal drama between Buckingham Palace and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; or in the upcoming “Spencer” biopic, with Kristen Stewart in the title role. (Naomi Watts also played the role, in the 2013 film “Diane.”)
When the musical first aired at La Jolla Playhouse, critics noted how de Waal nailed Diana’s coquetry, although the character’s ballads (music and lyrics by Tony Award winners David Bryan and Joe DiPietro) lean towards unrestrained seriousness. And despite de Waal’s performance, the show has come under fire for coming through so quickly through so many moments of a shortened life that the emotional impact has been blunted.
Will “Diana” conquer the hearts of audiences on Broadway? And what impact will the Netflix recording of the show, which will be available for streaming before its theatrical release, have on the prospects for live production? As someone who has eaten “The Crown” (especially Emma Corrin’s performance as the princess), I can’t wait to find out.
Also in November, the Lincoln Center’s Flying Over Sunset Theater will bring beloved Hollywood man Cary Grant to life as Tony Yazbeck’s tap dance.
The musical, with a score by Tom Kitt and Michael Korie, imagines Grant; playwright and politician Clare Boothe Luce; and novelist Aldous Huxley sharing an acid trip to 1950s California. (All three were public about experimenting with LSD, but their cosmic connection is a product of screenplay by writer-director James Lapine.)
“He was one of the most famous Hollywood movie stars of all time,” Yazbeck said of Grant in a video preview for the show. “When you are offered this, you have to rise to that level, but also put your own stamp on it. “
He seems poised for success, and turning Grant (a child acrobat) into a former tap dancer is playing on his strengths. Yazbeck already exudes charm; a well-ironed suit, a classic side sweep and the ability to dance should allow her to do more than emulate the beloved movie star.
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