Music writer Diana explains why it’s not ‘cheap and cheesy’ and serves double Tom Jones
A Broadway musical about Princess Diana is set to premiere on Netflix, while in Birmingham a new show will tell the story of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones using the hits of Sir Tom Jones. Both originate from the brain of an American playwright.
“I’m going through my British phase for some reason as a writer,” New Yorker Joe DiPietro laughs backstage at Birmingham’s Rep Theater, where his musical Tom Jones is in rehearsal before opening next week .
Entitled What’s New Pussycat ?, this show is actually not just based on a single Tom Jones. It’s two Tom Jones for the price of one. Tom Jones meets Tom Jones. Tom Jones squared.
To explain – novelist Henry Fielding’s classic book, The Tale of Tom Jones, a Foundling, followed the food cravings in 18th century society.
After it became a popular film in 1963, a dashing singer called Thomas John Woodward adopted the stage name Tom Jones and went on to have hits like It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat ?, Delilah and Sex Bomb.
Today, DiPietro transplanted Fielding’s Tom Jones to 1960s swing London for a live stage musical punctuated by Sir Tom Jones swing hits.
Which is a great idea. But will a good idea make a big show?
“This music is so good and so theatrical,” says the playwright, who won two Tony Awards in 2010 for his musical Memphis, set in the 1950s.
“Tom Jones sang mostly about love, and about love and love, and the book Tom Jones examines love from all angles. So they fit in easier than I thought.”
The show is choreographed by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Dame Arlene Phillips, with Tom Jones played by Dominic Andersen, who himself is tall, dark and dashing.
But any resemblance to the pop star is unintentional. “He’s playing the Tom Jones of the book, not Sir Tom Jones,” DiPietro points out.
Before audiences receive this double help from Tom Jones, they can see how DiPietro tackled an even more iconic British figure, and one whose story is much more emotionally charged.
The words “Diana – The Musical” alone have raised a few thorns on this side of the Atlantic.
The show, which DiPietro wrote with keyboardist Bon Jovi, had premiered Broadway premieres just before Covid shut it down last spring.
It was therefore shot without an audience and released on Netflix on Friday, before finally being presented in person in New York in November.
“I knew what the average American knew about Diana,” says the writer. “I remember her holding the baby from AIDS, the wedding and, you know, hearing about the terrible marriage.
“I didn’t quite follow her, but I remember always admiring her, especially for her charitable work.
“I am an avid reader and I happened to take a biography of Diana one day. As I read I thought to myself that this would make a great musical. I was particularly drawn to her sense of empathy, which was almost supernatural. “
“An 80s pop princess”
The pieces really started to fall into place when he learned more about the “love triangle” between Charles, Diana and Camilla.
“It’s fascinating to me, and everything about the relationship with Diana suddenly had a subtext, because we know in hindsight that he was really in love with another woman,” the writer said.
“It was epic and regal and I thought, she’s an 80s pop princess, and I often collaborate with Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, who was an 80s pop star. I told her there. ‘idea and he said,’ Oh my God, that’s great, yeah. ‘”
The fully-sung script covers Charles and Diana’s wedding, with the People’s Pop Princess played by British actress Jeanna de Waal, a Broadway regular.
DiPietro and Bryan aren’t the only ones who are drawn to Diana’s story. Kristen Stewart is currently the bookmaker’s favorite to win the Best Actress award at next year’s Oscars for her acclaimed performance in the movie Spencer, while Emma Corrin won a Golden Globe for The Crown.
British theater has not shied away from taking the royals on whimsical flights (as in Charles III or The Windsors), but there may be more leeway for an American production to treat Diana like another tragic public figure. and heroic that can be resurrected. with the help of a lively choir.
“I think the distance is actually very useful,” says DiPietro. “I thought maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber or Elton John was writing a show about her, but my British friends feel the British are too close to her.
“So I think the reason the show works is because we have a certain distance from them and see them as people, as opposed to icons. At least David and I do.”
However, the British press was skeptical even before the show had its Broadway premieres. Early access to the Netflix version was not available. But isn’t Diana – The Musical going to be a little tasteless?
“I never approached it as a campy show,” DiPietro replies. “We never approached it as a criticism of Diana. We never approached it as a simple love letter. For us, she is truly an extraordinary and important woman of the last century who had lasting impact.
“It’s an exploration of his life. I hope there aren’t any villains in the show, and it’s really three people trying to cope with this unique situation.
“It’s unique because they were royals and they were in the spotlight – but it’s not unique, people have affairs, people are in love with someone else, people marry the wrong person. For me, that was always the subject of the show, just with a regal and epic feel.
“And also, we never see Harry or William, because I thought it was a little exploitative. We obviously talk about it and discuss it, but they don’t come at the end.
“To me it’s cheap and cheesy, it’s something that we worked hard not to make this musical.”
Diana: The Musical is on Netflix starting Friday, October 1. What’s new Pussycat? is at the Birmingham Rep from Friday 8th October.