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Why, Die, Diana? by Mark Bakalor


On October 23, the world premiere production of the new musical comedy, Die, Die, Diana, will open at San Jose State University. Satirical and irreverent in tone, Diana examines the question of who killed Diana Spencer. It satirizes the political power of the royal family, the mutually exploitive relationships between Diana and the press, and the public's idealization of celebrities. Over the past many months, this musical has spurred debate over whether such a controversial subject should be the centerpiece of a musical comedy.

Princess Diana died in an auto crash in Paris on Saturday, August 31, 1997 with her companion, Dodi Fayed. Scott Sublett, the playwright of Diana, began writing two days later and within two weeks had his first draft. I sat down with Sublett to discuss his play and the controversy that surrounds it:


"Diana is a modern version of the heroines played by Lana Turner in those Ross Hunter movies of the 1950s," Scott explains. "She's suffering in ermine - or would be, if fur weren't out of fashion. There's a long tradition in American pop culture of the long-suffering wife. As long as the suffering is done glamorously, American women love it. They love Diana because she suffers. If she had found happiness, they'd have loved her less. They don't realize that suffering is suffering, whether it's done in designer gowns or in rags. They only know that dramas about people suffering in rags bore them."

Sublett continues, "A lot of women liked Diana's victimization. These women tell themselves they admired Diana's pluck, but for a lot of them Diana's life matched their own masochistic fantasies of doomed romance. Even as I say this, however, I'm being unfair - Diana meant something slightly differently to everyone. But there's a long tradition in American popular culture, going back to the domestic novels of the 1800s, of wallowing in suffering."

When asked to discuss his views on the death of Diana Spencer, Scott replied, "American's have reacted to Diana's death rather childishly. As though a personal friend died. They're being sanctimonious about it. Europeans and Arabs saw it that it was an assassination, and probably because she was mixed up with Dodi and planned to move to Malibu and become a movie star. It would have destroyed the monarchy."


One of the production's biggest concerns currently lies around the possibility of an extension to the show's original two week run due to an extraordinary interest in people attempting to get tickets. Add to that a variety of professional theatre companies across the country expressing interest in producing the show at their own theatres, the worldwide press attention, and a very quick to spread word of mouth and it is easy to see why so many questions have been raised regarding Diana, a musical comedy about the life and relatively recent death of such a popular figure. Here are a sample of some of the most often asked questions and the playwright's responses...


Why write a play about Diana?

Society has turned Diana into the secular equivalent of the Virgin Mary, which is something that should be respected but I don't think that is particularly helpful. It is drama's duty to depict Diana. It is the duty of the artist to process history and shape the way we think of the great and mighty. It has been this way since the Greeks. Who else should we allow to interpret life? The makers of commemorative porcelain dolls? TV pundits?


Is this an appropriate subject for a musical comedy?

Diana and the Royal Family are all political figures and therefore classically appropriate subjects for satire. Comedy is the perfect way to celebrate her, remember her, and keep her alive.


Isn't it morbid to write a musical about a dead person?

Die, Die, Diana is a comedy about death and one of the reasons I wrote it was to be able to treat death in a comic way. I am reminded of the famous remark, "Comedy is tragedy plus time."


Isn't this whole project in bad taste?

Taste is a matter of taste. I think that most people who see the show will decide that it isn't in bad taste. Irreverent art and premature honesty are often mistaken for bad taste.


What is the point of the musical? Is it just "shock for shock's sake"?

No. I am completely in favor of shock for shock's sake, however the point of my play is to shock the audience into reconsidering how they perceive Diana and how the culture defines her. I fully expect the self-righteous philistines to be shocked and horrified and not get it.


Is this disrespectful of Diana?

The play respects her by accepting her for who she was, warts and all. Diana is disrespected when she is turned into a plaster saint or a projection of their own fantasies, thereby by implication judging the real woman not good enough to be loved - ironically repeating in her death the central tragedy of her life. In my play she's a living, breathing woman with virtues and flaws. I'm not attacking Diana, I'm attacking the people who used and destroyed her. The play is actually quite kind to Diana and portrays her with affection. I do, however, see her as used and victimized by those around her. She was probably too naive and self-doubting to defend herself.


But doesn't the title alone indicate an attack on Diana?

The title reflects the other characters in the play attacking Diana.


Is this exploitative of Diana?

One of the points of the show is that everyone, including Diana herself, exploited Diana. All drama exploits the human models on which it is based, whether those models are famous or unknown, living or dead. The question is not whether the human model is exploited, she invariably is, but whether the art is good. That is for the audience to decide.




SJSU Theatre Presents A World Premiere Musical Comedy



            D I E ,   D I E ,   D I A N A





    Book and Lyrics      Music       Direction

     Scott Sublett     Jef Labes    Danny Scheie





October 23, 24, 29, 30, 31, and November 6, 7 at 7pm



San Jose State University - Hal Todd Studio Theatre

5th and San Fernando Street (Downtown San Jose)





Phone order tickets are available through all BASS

outlets. Walk up and group tickets are available at 

the SJSU Event Center. For ticket information call

408.924.4555. For mature audiences only.





Angus Bond ............................. Tom Shamrell

Aristotle Onassis ................... Randall Marquez

Camilla .............................. Michelle Jones

Charles ............................ Breton Nicholson

Diana ................................... Renee Cunha

Dodi ................................... David Legois

Elizabeth ........................... Laura Patterson

Harry ................................... Matt Tondag

Johny Swift ............................. Jason Barba

Norma Jean ............................ Sarah Jenkins

Sir Ralph .............................. Mark Bakalor

Queen Mum ......................... Kathryn Salisbury

William ............................... Mike Tandecki



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