it is embarrassing that the NYT published this -- an unnecessary breakdown of this terrible and unnecessary opinion piece
Last Edit: Chazwaza 09:59 pm EDT 08/08/22
Posted by: Chazwaza 09:45 pm EDT 08/08/22
In reply to: The underrated DIANA - Genealley 04:47 pm EDT 08/08/22

The premise and execution of this opinion piece is at the level of Twitter thread from a musical theater/gay twitter person, and frankly that is where it belongs.
The Times should be absolutely embarrassed to have filed this under "Critics Notebook"

The headline alone, "that we didn't deserve" is extremely internet-speak, and speaks to what it is... a twitter thread reformatted as a NYT Theater Criticism Opinion Piece. Truly baffling. I'm genuinely shocked that anyone was paid to write this, let alone that it was pitched to the Times and they paid for it AND published it.

I mean, my issues started even from the opening of the piece, citing the "heavily awarded" Company revival... Company got a mixed-to-negative review IN the New Year Times from its actual theater critic. The production managing to get the (wildly undeserving - but that's my own opinion) Tony wins it got doesn't make it a critically beloved production. Did he think that perhaps the underwhelming major reviews and underwhelming casting of Bobbie, and the performances of the opening number that came off worse out of context that even in the context of Elliott's production, could have contributed to it underperforming at the box office... rather than attributing it only to the rocky road of recovery after Covid, and laying that as the inhospitable environment that Diana was forced to open in, therefor making it probable that the show was not given a fair chance? Please.

Ramírez, the critic, says: "But more than most other musicals that opened last season, the one whose songs and sheer audacity stand the best chance to live on in my heart — and on my shower playlists — is the one that shone briefly, amid a deluge of vitriol."
Pardon me if I don't think we should be expected to care what cast album of the new season he plays in the shower most -- let alone that we should give the assessment of its quality another look because he likes to play it in the shower. The songs live in his heart because of their audacity? "Don't Waste the Moon" and other highlights of the bad parts of the score to Carrie live in my heart and shower too... but not because they are good, or because we "didn't deserve" that musical. And this piece isn't even an Encores-style examination or praising of a gem of a score stuck in a bad show... the critic seems aware that while the score contains "bops" and sure-to-be camp classics as attempts a musical theater songs for a musical about Diana, it is not a great score... but proceeds to try to convince us that it is, somehow, anyway? Because... it has an inexplicably gay sensibility and we should lean into that and celebrate it despite that it was written by straight men who were pretty bad choices to musicalize Diana's life and whose previous works seems like the kind of stuff this critic would automatically dismiss? ...

When the article links to this critics review it takes us to "Theaterly"... not a publication with a reputation earned from great critical writing, but from a blog collecting reviews from less seasoned critics...
His review of Diana opens with a paragraph of thoughts and assertions that make me never want to care about his opinions on musical theater, and does not actually make a case for the musical being something we "didn't deserve", or worthy of a NYT piece about that:
"I will level with you. Diana, the new musical which just opened at the Longacre Theatre, is not “good” by cis-hetero-patriarchal standards of quality. But let’s decenter that trade and focus on what it approximates: a maxi-challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race blessedly mixed with a Simpsons parody of Evita (which, of course, they’ve already done). It has the preposterous high gloss of a Ru production, with The Simpsons’ innate understanding of the overly-literal silliness that makes the form work."

In the Times piece he says:
"De Waal’s performance sold me on the idea that Diana Spencer was a 19-year-old robbed of a comfortable young adulthood, cynically plucked by stuffy royals for good optics, then discarded once her personhood got in the way."
One major problem with this is that it is inaccurate to the young adulthood of Diana Spencer, who was born into extreme privilege in a prominent family... I mean, her sister was dating Charles when Diana met him, and Diana didn't become part of the royal family until after she was an adult (at age 20 -- still very young, and the age difference is a factor too, but it's not as if she was crowned Queen when she was 12, or plucked from normal middle class existence).

He continues ... "The music, by the Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan, was as arena-ready as you’d expect, calling back to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s early marriage of rock bombast and theatrical silliness (Exhibit A: “Evita.”)"
I'm surprised he didn't say the music was provided by the CisHet David Bryan, who rose to fame and opportunity through the culture of CisHet patriarchal culture and platforming and bro-culture that we should be rejecting... but since he wrote songs that are so bad they're good in context of a Princess Diana musical... then it's queer and amazing and we love to see it!
Also... his opinion of Evita is that it was a marriage of "rock bombast" and "theatrical silliness" ... ? Has he ever heard actual rock music? And I think Hal Prince would like a (well deserved) word. As would I.

He goes on: "The lyrics (by Bryan and Joe DiPietro) were scarcely more profound than a “Live Laugh Love” poster but, sung with full force, they stuck like Super Glue. Diana’s “I could use a prince to save me from my prince,” rather silly on paper, came across as a primal scream."
This is something we are supposed to feel unworthy of? Because of it's thoroughly *unintentional* camp value?

The piece makes a lot of effort to convince us that the show was always meant to be a silly rock comedy melodrama or something... but this just doesn't seem accurate to me. *That does not mean one shouldn't or couldn't love and adore and celebrate what it is, even if it's not "good"**, but to pretend it always was a camp piece is ridiculous -- look at who made it.
Not to mention that this show had a life before Broadway and Netflix... if the writers and directors intended this, why would they not have directed the cast to "lean in" to this before they started to be embarrassed by the show after reviews came out on broadway?

In addressing if the musical they wrote was a tasteful way to musicalize Diana's story, he says: " I see no reason this musical should be punished for molding the source material to fit the form’s razzle-dazzle structure."
That's what he thinks happened? His opinion is that this was inevitably what a musical of a tragic character/story would be, and the only way it would fit in the "dazzle dazzle" "structure" of a musical? Please. Educate yourself, Mr. Ramírez.

He says: "Was “Diana” tasteful or poetic? Definitely not. But it was fun. Remember fun? So many productions this season didn’t, setting their sights instead on scoring political points, to varying success and an even dimmer sense of play."
Wow I'd be very interested in which shows he's talking about here. What a dismissive and also, frankly, inaccurate look at the last season. I do agree that many producers seemed to have political/cultural cred/points on their mind when they decided to produce like 9 black authors in 1 half of a season, to all compete against each other for press/coverage, audience interest and awards... but dismissing the plays and musicals themselves as "forgetting about fun" because of the potential intentions or lack of thorough strategizing by their producers is not fair.

To be clear, I think there is a place for "just fun" on broadway, and fluff and bubble gum, and bad writing too, if it can sell it can sell. I don't blame it for what it is, or this critic for having a special place in his heart of Spotify playlist for it. That's not the issue here.

He says: "I count the glitzy show among works that, pardon my youthfulness, “slay”: highlighting the improbable achievements of an underdog (usually a woman) with the subtlety of a six-foot sword, and twice its shine."
To this I would say, again, educate yourself. Are you familiar with musicals... in general? This is very common, and not always with the total lack of subtlety he is hell bent on celebrating as some sort of queer and feminist achievement of rebellion.

He even follows that thought up with examples to prove me right about his either relative lack of knowledge of the art form, or his bad take on it...
"It’s what makes Dolly Levi’s arrival at the Harmonia Gardens so glamorous; Evita’s “Rainbow High” fashions so decadent; Momma Rose’s ambition so delicious."
First of all, what production of Evita is he watching that the take away was Eva's fashions in "Rainbow High" being "decadent"?
Secondly, he think Rose's ambition is "delicious", and that it is because she is a female underdog? ?

And because "The spectacle of someone transcending their given situation" is "woven into the fabric of musical theater"... that justifies why Diana having that same basic story and theme told in this particular musical is... good. ? Like, by the nature of it being that?

He describes the small contingent of fans of the show: "They clung to the gowns, the belting, the insane boldness of an AIDS patient singing to the princess, “I may be unwell, but I’m handsome as hell.”
Funny... I know many gay men who felt this was just a poorly written lyric and in very bad taste/utilizing the stereotype of gay male vanity in a scene in a hospital where these gays were dying of AIDS. Now, I am not offended by the attempt at humor (I wouldn't even be surprised if this line was taken by an actual gay man at a hospital she visited), I'm just offended by the bad taste... but more than anything I'm surprised that this young critic has decided that when these straight men write these gay men dying of AIDS, they chose to write this... he wants to celebrate this, despite knowing it was written by people who don't have the lived experience to understand all sides of gays being portrayed this way. He is discussing this musical as if queer people wrote a campy Diana spectacular and we need to celebrate it... now it's irrelevant that CisHet people wrote this stuff, but I doubt that would be true if it were a different minority being written about in what most seem to consider poor taste and/or poor writing.

He continues to make points that are truly irrelevant... like that a fan on twitter made a custom shirt and put it on sale online and it sold well. And?

And worse, points that are just wrong: "Mark my words: The show is primed for another look. Consider “Legally Blonde,” currently enjoying a critical re-evaluation thanks to a Lucy Moss-directed London revival, and continuing social media affection for its original, bubble gum pink production."
Legally Blonde ran on broadway for over 600 performances, not under 60 like Diana. Unlike Diana, LB was nominated for Best Score, Best Book, Best Actress etc at the Tonys and the Drama Desk nominated it for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Music, Best Lyrics, Best Actress, Best Director and more. Diana got none of these at either Awards. And Diana ran in a weak year... even hated, ignored, or dismissed shows like Flying Over Sunset, Mr. Saturday Night, and Paradise Square got a Best Score nom. LB was nominated against Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens, and Curtains (same noms for Best Book) -- I'll freely admit that the only major shows that could have taken LB's place in the category that year was High Fidelity (a widely praised score even for a flop show), and Fame Becomes Me, but that had a fantastic score and hilarious book by heavy hitters and would easily have taken LB's slot of if everyone was as dismissive of LB's writing as this critic would like us to think based on his comparison.
But like Diana, LB also got a released pro-shot filming of the show, that was celebrated and targeted brilliantly to the core demo. LB also was wide considered better than it ought to be (by those who don't consider the genre of the movie it's based on to be associated with quality writing).
LB has also been a very popular show to produce and score to play since it ran on Broadway, especially with "the girls and the gays", as he notes showed up for Diana.
LB is not "receiving a critical reevaluation" now, suddenly, it has not needed one, and it is not getting only new praise based on the pink West End revival... I have seen quite a lot of criticism with the praise for this new version of the show.
But my point is that to compare these two shows as being in the same category is wildly disingenuous and inaccurate.

This whole thing feels written to honor his friends at Fire Island that he spent the summer singing to the cast album with... and that's fine for twitter or a blog, but it's a ridiculous use of space or validation from The New York Times.

Is this the future of theater criticism?

Previous: The underrated DIANA - Genealley 04:47 pm EDT 08/08/22
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