Meet Judy Kaye Who Stars As Queen Elizabeth In 'Diana: A True Musical Story'

Jeryl Brunner

On March 2, 2020 "Diana: A True Musical Story" began previews at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. The show was set to officially open on Broadway on March 31, 2020. However, when the pandemic forced all theater to shut down, the musical about Princess Diana and the people who helped shape her didn’t get its opening night.

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(From left) Judy Kaye, Erin Davie, Roe Hartrampf and-Jeanna de-Waal star in "Diana: A True Musical
Story (Photo by Gavin Bond.)

However, "Diana: A True Musical Story" is not only set to open on Broadway in May 2121, the production will get its audience on Netflix when it debuts before the show opens in the theater. Diana tells the story of the incredible life of Princess Diana, who at 19 was engaged to Prince Charles and thrust onto the world stage. The musical highlights a specific moment in time as Diana is thrust into the spotlight and rocks the royals. It shines a light on Diana, the royal family and the indelible imprint that this unconventional princess made upon the world. She created a legacy that continues to endure. 

Directed by Christopher Ashley, Diana will be filmed without an audience on the stage of the Longacre Theatre and will feature the original Broadway cast including Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles, and Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth. “Diana is an epic story of escapism,” says Jeanna de Waal who plays Princess Diana. “It’s grand. It’s huge. Emotions are high and that creates great material for songs, dances and everything that is transcendent in a musical. It takes us on a heightened journey filled with emotion. It has all the goods to really create that.”

"Diana: A True Musical Story" was written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan, who also wrote Memphis. Diana is choreographed by Kelly Devine who choreographed the hit musical Come From Away. Costumes were designed by legendary costume designer William Ivey Long (The Producers, Hairspray, Nine, Crazy for You, Grey Gardens, Young Frankenstein, Cinderella)

Judy Kaye is a two-time Tony Award winner for Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera and Duchess Estonia Dulworth in Nice Work If You Can Get It. She was also nominated for Tonys for her standout performances in Mamma Mia! and Souvenir.

During her five decade career Kaye is beloved on Broadway for her eclectic roles. She has played a compelling array of characters including Lucy Van Pelt, Rizzo, Maria Von Trapp, Emma Goldman, Mrs. Lovett, and Grandma Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers. She has starred on Broadway in Cinderella, Wicked and Anastasia. Kaye has sung with symphony orchestras around the world and performed twice at the White House.

Judy Kaye shared more.

Jeryl Brunner: What went though your mind when you learned about the opportunity to play Queen Elizabeth?

 Judy Kaye: You’re REALLY going let me play her? I get to do that! The fact that someone thought of me to do the part is such a huge compliment and also scary. I think, this person is alive. It's incredible to be taking this on at this time in the world. And really, it’s incredible to play this role at any time. The story is so dramatic and crazy.

Jeryl Brunner: Is there something you wish you could ask Queen Elizabeth?

Judy Kaye: How she felt about certain things. She has to move past the cameras. We only know the final decisions. But we don't know how she arrived at them and the struggles there were to get there.

Jeryl Brunner: You inhabit all the people you play so deeply. What did you do to prepare to play the Queen?

Judy Kaye: I watched everything. I have been reading lots and lots of books. There are so many books and so many people with tell-alls. I think, what is the truth? Most recently I went back to an old BBC series of documentaries on the Royal family and the House Of Windsor. I’ve been looking at that and seeing what she was like when she was in her twenties. I look at that bubble of excitement that she had for the task and how that has new mutated over the years to the job.

Jeryl Brunner: Do you remember one of the first times you were on stage?

Judy Kaye: I played Queen Esther at my temple when I was six-years-old. The first line I ever uttered was “Waiter, bring the wine.” I didn’t really dare dream of doing this for a living until well into high school. I thought that I would teach. I went to UCLA and studied creative dramatics and how to teach and work with kids.  Then I realized that I was too much of a ham.

Jeryl Brunner: What was your Broadway debut?

Judy Kaye: My very first role on Broadway was actually in the summer of 1977. I went into Grease on Broadway and played Rizzo. I had played her in the first national company in 1973 with Marilu Henner and John Travolta, who was 17 years old. Jerry Zaks was my leading man. We had an amazing company. So I got the call to go to Broadway with it. Then right on the heels of that I went into On The Twentieth Century, which was my big coming out party. That was an extraordinary experience.

Jeryl Brunner: Can you share a memorable onstage mishap?

Judy Kaye: I’ve had many wardrobe malfunctions. A bunch of times I had to do whole scenes holding my dress together. I remember doing Rizzo in Grease on the road in Denver, 1973. We were doing the hand jive and the entire dress exploded off my body. I had to dance into the wings, get sewn into it and hand jive back onto the stage. I’ve been there baby. 

Jeryl Brunner: Where do you keep your Tony Awards?

Judy Kaye: They are sitting on the grand piano. Of course.

Jeryl Brunner: What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw when you were a child?

Judy Kaye: I came on the train to New York from Phoenix, Arizona and we went to see Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees. I was eight-years-old. I thought, that looks like fun. We couldn't get into My Fair Lady on that trip. It was sold out and couldn't get tickets. So I saw a road company of that show. I had to see it.

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

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