Diana The Musical
Diana The Musical

Jeanna de Waal on Playing the Iconic Princess Diana

Actress Jeanna de Waal is the Princess of Wales in the new bio-musical Diana The Musical. The show — which is set to return to Broadway previews at the Longacre Theatre November 2 — follows the courtship and marriage of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. Diana was in previews prior to the COVID-19 industry-wide shutdown, and during the pause, Netflix filmed de Waal and company for a soon-to-be-released presentation of the musical, which will begin streaming October 1. Entertainment journalist Frank DiLella caught up with de Waal to talk about her royal return to Broadway.

As a Brit, has this been the highlight of your career, getting to portray Princess Diana on stage?

This is the highlight of my career as an actress, British or not. It’s unreal to play the title role, and it’s an honor that I hope I deliver on — I know I will deliver on. I’m so proud of this show. And as a Brit, having a personal connection to the story, it makes it even more special.

Who is Princess Diana to you?

Princess Diana is a household personality. When she was in the news, my mom and grandmother, who were British, had a personal connection and cared for her. And all of England cared for her in this really special way. It is part of our culture.

When did you hear they were doing a musical about Diana? And did you think, “I’m British … I kind of look like her … I can book this”?

I heard about the show two days before the audition. When I auditioned, I was auditioning for a 29-hour reading; I wasn’t auditioning for a Netflix movie. So I felt confident that I could book the 29-hour reading.

Princess Diana was an incredible humanitarian. What was the most interesting thing you learned about her when doing your research?

I think it was an awareness of how young she was and how naive she was at 19. And also, an awareness of the age difference between her and Charles — almost 13 years difference. Looking at it from the other side, this young 19-year-old girl marries this much more senior and much more experienced man. The complexity of what that relationship was,  and an understanding of what she had to go through in a very public spotlight at such a young age, and what she had to navigate. And what I learned was a huge, profound respect for her and how she survived this and overcame it and found strength.

There are a lot of gorgeous William Ivey Long costumes in this show. I believe you have almost 40 costumes. Is that a dream, to be wearing these incredible William Ivey Long looks?

It is a dream. It makes you feel like the character. They’re so glamorous. The care William has put into these costumes has been unbelievable. When you see the costumes, you’ll see why he’s the expert that he is. He would spend 40 minutes debating over a button placement!

Do you have a favorite costume?

There’s a velvet off-the-shoulder number at the end of Act 1.

I understand you had an interaction with Prince Harry way back when.

Yes. I used to cater when I was in college. And he was at a party I was catering at, and me and another girl were in charge of making sure Harry’s glass was topped off — and I was in charge of Harry’s champagne glass.

What do you remember about him?

I remember that he and his girlfriend were the last ones at the party; they were on the dance floor till the very end. They were having such a good time.

Why are people so obsessed with the royals?

Well, they’re the ultimate fantasy. It’s real-life princes and princesses and castles. America loves celebrities, and they’re the oldest celebrities that exist.

During the shutdown in 2020, you and your company went into a bubble and you filmed Diana in your theatre. The filmed presentation is about to be released on Netflix prior to previews on Broadway.

It was last August of the pandemic — no vaccine — and we were in New York. And we basically created this bubble. And you can imagine how complicated the bubble is: It was the actors, the crew, the filming crew, and we were all in different bubbles. It was a wild four weeks. We were doing the cast album recording as well during that time. It was so insane and so fun. It was a dream.

You’ve been on one wild ride with getting this show to Broadway — taking a great pause, filming the show for Netflix, and now returning to Broadway. What are you going to take away from this experience?

Wow. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but in a way my wildest teenage dream has come true. The New York Times this morning just put out a massive ad of my face. This is beyond what I could possibly dream of as a musical-theater actress loving musical theater in England. I will take away how possible your dreams are for anyone. I’m not special. My dream has come true, and I hope people will see this and go on to pursue their goals and dreams.

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