The team behind the Tony-winning Best Musical Memphis has reunited. Nearly ten years after their first collaboration bowed at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, book writer Joe DiPietro, composer-lyricist David Bryan, and director Christopher Ashley will premiere an early version of their new musical Diana this summer as part of the Reading Festival at Vassar & New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater.
Tucked away in upstate New York—and closed to critics—the trio will test the waters with the developmental reading. The story starts with a bit of Diana’s childhood before focusing on her 1981 marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales, and their subsequent separation. “Diana was 19 when she got married. Imagine yourself: 19 years old, most famous person in the world,” DiPietro tells Playbill. “She had this princess fantasy and when her fantasy came true, she realized fantasies don’t always play out the way you want.”
The majority of the show centers around Diana in her 20s, and DiPietro and Bryan emphasize they’re on the hunt for a new, young powerhouse actor. “Diana is a big role,” says DiPietro, “and there’s a lot of talented young people out there. We’ll find someone.”
And DiPietro has a track record for creating star-turning roles. His All Shook Up gave Broadway Cheyenne Jackson (as a leading man). Memphis put Montego Glover on the map, after she had understudied the roles of Celie and Nettie in the original Broadway production of The Color Purple; she and Chad Kimball both went on to Tony nominations that year.
Bryan, keyboardist for Bon Jovi, made a splash when he won Best Score for his Broadway debut with Memphis. He’s using his eclectic musical taste and his experiences as a writer from the greater music sphere to write Diana. “We have 23 songs,” he says of Diana’s score. “I gave them musical characters to differentiate: Diana is pop-rock, royalty is string quartet, we have paparazzi as punk guitars and we try to make all those roles live on top of each other.”
No matter how many styles or characters, the two are clear: Diana is the vehicle of her own story. “It’s about her self-empowerment and how she was in this terrible marriage, but still managed to do so much good for the world,” says DiPietro. And even though three men currently lead the team, they are cognizant of voice they give to Diana. “I’ve learned, at our core we’re all the same,” says DiPietro. “We’re born into different genders, sexualities, races, religions, whatever, but we all want the same things out of life. We all want to be loved, we all want to have a purpose. If you write from the outside overlooking someone, you’re dead; but if you write from the inside and really try to feel what this particular character [feels] and what you share with them, you can write anyone.”
Look back as DiPietro and Bryan talk about their reaction to Memphis: