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Broadway Q&A: Jeanna de Waal of ‘Diana’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

de Waal, who plays Princess Di, calls the new musical “an epic story of escapism”

Diana tells the story of the incredible life of Princess Diana, who at 19 was engaged to Prince Charles and thrust onto the world stage. The show focuses on a very specific time when the Princess defied expectations and came into her own. She created a legacy that continues to endure. Diana stars Jeanna de Waal as the princess, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth and Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles. The new musical is written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan, who also wrote Memphis. Diana is directed and choreographed by Christopher Ashley and Kelly Devine, the team behind Come From Away. Costumes were designed by legendary costume designer William Ivey Long (The Producers, Hairspray, Nine, Crazy for You, Grey Gardens, Young Frankenstein, Cinderella). De Waal created the role of Diana, Princess of Wales at La Jolla Playhouse and at New York Stage and Film Powerhouse Theatre. On Broadway, she starred as Lauren in Kinky Boots and as Heather in American Idiot. She also plays the recurring role of Sophia in the Netflix/Marvel series Iron Fist

Jeanna de Waal stars as Princess Diana in ‘Diana’ (Photo: Gavin Bond)

Jeanna de Waal stars as Princess Diana in ‘Diana’ (Photo: Gavin Bond)

Is there something you wish you could ask Princess Diana?  
Jeanna de Waal: Why did you stay loving Charles for so long? It was such a complicated relationship. From all the research it seems like she really, really loved him until it was not possible to love him anymore. And she had to move on. It's amazing what hooked her so deeply. It wasn't for show. It wasn't for publicity. She truly fell for that man.

How did you start performing?
JDW: I went to a performing arts high school. And I just loved the whole environment. It was less about sort of standing on a stage and performing. It was more the creative piece. I loved the meshing of music and theater, being in our rehearsal room and everything about the process. I have been in love with theater since I was a little girl. I didn't necessarily think I ever would be an actress. I didn't think I'd ever be so lucky. But I definitely knew I wanted to be involved in the theater world. And even now, who knows if I will be an actress forever. But the theater is definitely my home. I want to be involved in theater, in some way, forever.

What would you say if someone were to ask, “Why should I see Diana?”  

JDW: Diana an epic story of escapism. It’s grand. It’s huge. Emotions are high, and that creates great material for songs, dances and everything that is transcendent in a musical. It takes us on a heightened journey filled with emotion. It has all the goods to really create that.

What was the first Broadway show that you ever saw?
I saw Rent. I believe that I have such a vivid memory because I was too young to see it. I was about eight. I have this very strong memory of Idina Menzel doing something with her tongue. She was standing on stage and flicked it in a very sexual way. That imprinted itself on my brain. I couldn't stop thinking about it for years.

Playing Diana is pretty epic, but down the road is there a role you are aching to tackle?
JDW: I would love to play the Witch in Into the Woods. I watched it so many times growing up and there is so much to it. It has such a great score.

I realize you were very young when Diana was alive, but what are some specific memories you have of her?
JDW: One was when the paparazzi snuck into her gym and took a picture of her working out in the gym. I remember my mom being annoyed that they infringed on her privacy like that. The second memory I have is of her death. It was a huge event in my family. I was around seven. Those are the only memories I have from her at the time of being alive.

How excited are you about the costumes?
JDW: They are amazing. I'm tired just thinking about all the quick changes, though. That is sometimes more exhausting than the onstage traffic.

For more of the best of New York Theater this season, check out our list of the 15 Most Highly Anticipated New Broadway Shows of 2020

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