I don't know that the mission of Alternate Ending necessarily counts talking about the video recordings of stage productions; personally, I don't "count" them as movies, and while I suppose in a pinch you could call them a type of documentary, that feels like a cheat. But one does not wish to encounter something so startlingly reprehensible as Diana: The Musical, and not find some way of describing it to the world, in all its enormity. Not least because doesn't want to have sunk the two hours into watching Diana: The Musical and not at least get a post out of it.

The object in question is a bit peculiar. Diana was meant to open on Broadway at the end of March, 2020, until the fledgling COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. So we can't say that nothing good came of the pandemic. For some reason - to keep the crew and cast occupied, I guess - the producers arranged to have the production, which was complete and ready to go, filmed that August, in an empty theater. The idea, we have been told, is that this recording would serve as a long-form advertisement for the show, released on Netflix on 1 October, 2021, a month before previews and more than six weeks before the show's rescheduled opening night on 17 November. Apparently, audiences would be so enthusiastic about the recording that they'd be chomping at the pit to see it again with the irreplaceable energy of a live performance in front of a real audience.

It's a big world, so I imagine at least some people probably had that response. I will unhesitatingly agree that live stage performances do have an alchemy to them that no filmed image could even start to replicate. But it would take more than the pixie dust of live theater to redeem the unutterable catastrophe of Diana: The Musical. It is misconceived on a level that makes it sound like a parody, a fake musical that gets mentioned in passing in a movie or TV show and maybe shown in a cutaway joke as the kind of no-decent-person-would-ever example of the deranged excess of out-of-control creatives. The Diana of the title is none other than Diana, Princess of Wales (Jeanna de Waal, who goes for a mindless cheerfulness throughout; one suspects it's because she decided that if she just charged through at top speed, she might avoid taking too many hits from the material), and the story covers her life from shortly before she met Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) all the way up until her death at the age of 36 in the summer of 1997. And Diana: The Musical is about as crass an act of grave-robbing as you could conceivably hope to find. Though why you'dΒ hope to find it...

The issue of whether it's in astronomically bad taste to craft a fun pop musical around the self-empowerment of a woman who died at the age of 36, when every other character in the show is still living, that is one debate to be had. Whether it's in bad taste for that musical to end with a literal ballad of empowerment that moves directly to having members of the company step up during the last lines of Diana's song to start reciting sentences from the news reports of her death is a different debate to be had, in which the available positions range from "what is wrong with these people?"all the way to "what the fuck is wrong with these fucking people?" But what's really galling is that, not only is Diana: The Musical tacky, it's an incredibly bad, flatfooted musical.

Diana is the third collaboration between Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (they wrote the songs together, while DiPietro wrote the book), following the stage musicals Memphis and The Toxic Avenger, and at least the first of those has a solid reputation and a passel of Tonys to its name. So in principle these two are good together; in principle, they at least understand how to write a functional musical. In practice, I cannot imagine that you'd be able to figure that out from the evidence presented to us here. Diana is sort of like what you get if you tried to make Evita but didn't even have the natural talent, such as it is, of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice: it is almost entirely sung-through, and it doesn't tell a story per se, but merely collects several scenes in the life of a woman with an extraordinarily public private life that made her a national symbol, and hopes that in throwing them together, it might somehow give us a look into that woman's cultural impact in all its multifaceted ways. This didn't work in Evita, a show that at least has some hummable tunes and one great ballad, and provides lots of space for a lead actress with a big voice to belt her way through some good showcases. Diana has a cluster of some truly dreadful songs, and if they are hummable, it is only because they are so trite and derivative that they all feel like something you've heard before (speaking of Evita: one of the songs in Diana is a glaringly obvious riff on the rhythm and structure, if not precisely the tune, of "And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)", I'm a little shocked that pure shame didn't keep DiPietro and Bryan from including it). It is, at best, mindlessly cheery Broadway pop with no personality; that's about where it is at worst, too, though the handful of uncertain and meager attempts to do some musical genre typically fall flat. And there are a few lines that imprison the lyrics, forcing bizarre linguistic constructions to fit everything into a meter, or just leaving the poor singers to squash and stretch syllables into rhythmic patterns no native speak of English would ever use. This happens most ruinously in the penultimate number, Queen Elizabeth II's "we're not so different, you and I" ballad "An Officer's Wife", which somehow obliges her to sing the title phrase by stretching "off" for two whole beats, cramming "ficer's" into one syllable, and then singing "wife" almost like a parenthetical hanging off the end of the line. Judy Kaye, probably the biggest name in the cast of the video recording, fights nobly, but it was an unwinnable battle of a song already limited by a mortifying narrative function.

Musically, the show is deeply uninteresting and sometimes broken; lyrically, it is a disaster for the ages. It's a show by Americans, for Americans, which manifests in some apocalyptic use of cartoon Englishisms; after the birth of William, Charles (played with mewling insufficiency and not a trace of the actual man's stuffy aristocracy by Hartrampf) warbles "Darling, I'm holding our son / So let me say, 'jolly well done!'" A line that, in addition to feeling like nothing any human could imagine saying, let alone would actually say, points us in the direction of the show's exhaustingly cute rhymes. "Ladies if your life has gone off course / You don't need a messy divorce / All you need is a man on a horse" sings James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan), Diana's lover, in the second act opener; shortly thereafter, the gossipy chorus affirms that "James Hewitt / Did do it / In our princess's bed". That's still a relief after the first act finale, the first of two songs where Diana sings about her wardrobe: "A pretty, pretty girl wears a pretty, pretty dress / The press has always used her, so now, she'll use the press". Which, to her credit, de Waal almost makes interesting. The sheer quotidian dreariness of so many of these lines in the middle even makes the outrageous howlers feel pleasurable, since they are at least appalling enough to be funny - "Better than a Guinness, better than a wank / Snap a few pics, and it's money in the bank," sung by the army of vampire-like paparazzi, swinging around their raincoats like bat's wings; the choral declaration that Diana's rivalry with Charles's mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles (Erin Davie, bravely soldiering through the most impossible of the show's several impossible roles) is basically like a prize fight, "The Thrilla in Manila betwixt Diana and Camilla". And boy, if I tried to tell you how that line worked out rhythmically, I think my eyes would start to bleed. Not even the straight dialogue, of whichΒ  there are only a few lines, is safe: "If I was interested in this type of sordid drama, I would watch Coronation Street" snits Elizabeth late in the second act, and maybe she even would, but that's still something you'd have to be a rampaging lunatic to think was good dialogue to place into the mouth of the reigning Queen of England.

Only one question remains: is Diana: The Musical enough of a bizarre, unholy catastrophe that it ends up being fun to watch? Reader, I am undecided. The production isn't horrible: the cast tries, more (de Waal) or less (Hartrampf). There is some pretty goofy choreography, where for no reason an entire stageful of reporters, or royal attendants, or what have you, all start to start pumping their bodies in the same vaguely uncomfortable pivot that is meant to look like "hipper" than normal chorus line dancing, I guess, and at least once it was stupid enough that I snort laughed. But really, this all lives and dies on the sheer deranged awfulness of the book and lyrics, and the constantly-refreshing sense of outrageous shock at how tacky it is when "hey tourists, it's a Broadway show!" mugging is applied to e.g. the time that Diana visited a ward of AIDS patients, one of whom agrees to a publicity photo with the eye-wateringly off-putting line "I may be unwell, but I'm handsome as hell!" It at least is never boring, though I still managed to make it take four sittings to get through the whole thing, but it ranges from "so bad it's mind-blowing that any money was ever spent on this" to "so bad it makes my eyes red with rage", and not so much "so bad I laughed." Still, the sheer scope of this farrago is enough that I can't imagine trying to stop somebody from indulging in some particularly morbid curiosity. Just don't say I didn't warn you.