BWW Interview: Jeanna de Waal Talks Bringing DIANA To Life At La Jolla Playhouse
According to most fairy tales, it is when the beautiful, young maiden is married to her Price Charming that their "Happily Ever After" can begin. DIANA, the world premiere musical at the La Jolla Playhouse explores what happens after the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding?
In this case, that fairytale wedding belonged to Diana Spencer, an assistant kindergarten teacher and Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. Only twenty years old at the time of her wedding, this shy young woman had to grapple with becoming world famous, while also dealing with the new strictures and emotional minefields that come with being a royal.
The new musical is helmed by some theatrical royalty as well, led by the Tony Award-winning MEMPHIS creative team of Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, and Playhouse Artistic Director and 2017 Tony Award recipient Christopher Ashley. The show explores the period of time where Diana married and gained the title of Princess of Wales, but learned that while the promised storybook happily ever after may not exist, she could find her voice and become the "queen of people's hearts" instead.
Actress Jeanna de Waal is taking the on the role as Diana and while she may not be old enough to remember Diana's wedding, she does remember that it was her untimely death that first truly brought Diana to her attention.
"I think her passing away was the first big moment that was imprinted on my memory; just because it was such a big deal for my Mum and GrandMum. I'm British, so I just remember our entire household being very upset on that day."
It is the discovery, both of Diana and the royal family that has proven to be a fascinating and challenging aspect to creating this role.
"I didn't really know any of the details of the story. I didn't know the ins and outs that are explored in our show and it's been a wild discovery to learn about them all as we've dived into the story and what everyone has said about it.
It's complicated, it extends throughout her life. It's rich; there are funny moments, there are dark moments, and it really is an actors dream to be able to explore someone's' life in full like that."
While many may be aware of the "after divorce Diana", and have an opinion on what happened, who was to blame, or who behaved badly, this musical explores the time in Diana's life that is lesser known to the public. For Jeanna this journey of Diana's self-discovery is a vital component of what a makes this piece truly unique.
"It's sort of a coming of age story. The piece is so fantastically written that the arc of her finding own power in her own voice and her own calling is really in the writing; in the lyrics, and the music, and the dialogue," de Waal says. "It's important to just be true to each scene and not playing the end before the beginning and living with the journey as the story unfolds."
The show doesn't shy away or avoid the complicated relationships with the royal family, or Camilla, or any of the other challenges Diana faced at the time either.
"She had to find her own strength. I think it tries to embrace the complications and really explore everyone's opinion for Diana and reason for their opinion and reason for their choices. I think it is really trying not to draw a one sided opinion in any way but to give full value to everyone and her, feelings and motivations. I'm sure once an audience watches, and adds the energy that every audience brings I'm sure people will decide which angle we're telling. But right now in this creative room we're really trying to explore that story in full.
I think it is daunting, but I am embracing the challenge and appreciating what an honor and a gift it is to play this role."
One famous part of Diana's public persona was her sense of fashion and her increasing savvy in using that to help define who she is. Jeanna says that these costumes, by six time Tony Award winning costume designer William Ivey Long are an imperative and beautiful part of the show not to be missed.
"William Ivey Long is doing the costumes so every costume is phenomenal," Jeanna says. When asked if she had a favorite, like any good royal she knows how to play it coy while whetting the public's appetite for more. "There are a couple of numbers in Act Two that are very glamorous."