Broadway To Vegas


Copyright: September 7, 1998
By: Laura Deni



The world has been besotted and saturated with Princess Diana. Just when you think nothing more could possible be said, writer/director Stephen Stahl has come up with a different approach for the most personal of reasons. She helped him kick cocaine. To say "thank you" Stahl wrote Queen of Hearts, in previews at The Grove Street Playhouse.

He first put pen to paper on this project when Diana was still alive. Stahl was living in London where his play Lady Day, about Billie Holliday, was a West End hit, running for over a year at the Piccadilly Theatre and earning Stahl an Olivier award nomination.

"While I was in London I began to listen to Diana politically," said the articulate and intelligent Stahl. "I listened to her views on a lot of subjects that people weren't talking about. She began to make a hell of a lot of sense to me. She began to win my heart. Her thinking was very much like mine. At that time I had no intentions of writing anything at all about her."

"Then I went back to London about four months before she passed on. I began to write a straight show on her. It was basically a very political concept."

"When the accident came, I decided it was really the wrong approach and that it wasn't a political drama at all. It should be a celebration of who she was. That is when I decided I needed music, because music touches the heart in ways that words cannot. So, I pared up with a composer/lyricist who I know well," said Stahl referred to Claudia Perry."

"Diana did a lot for me. Diana allowed me to look at a lot of things in my life. One of them was cocaine addiction," he confessed. "For the last ten years, thank God, I have been clean and sober."

"Without Diana being able to look at her addictions, to tell you the truth, I don't think I would have been able to look at time," he candidly admitted, referring to an ability some people possess to use another's outward confession of problems as the catalyst to find their own inner strength. For people who can gain courage from others, the results can be profound and permanent.

"I looked at this very, very brave woman, able to tell the world about her bulimia, and how she would often cut herself, and all of the horrible things that most people would leave in the closet - which allowed me to be brave about my problem."

"I was able and I never thought that I could do this - I was able to put down cocaine and walk away ... cold turkey."

"This is why I wrote the show."

"It was Diana that gave me the courage to say there is a problem here, put it (cocaine) down. What the hell are you doing? What do you need this for?" related Stahl.

"A lot of people see her and see her addictions as weaknesses," continued the author. "Or, see her need for love as weakness. It wasn't weakness," he emphatically stated. "It's a great strength to be able to risk love that much. She wanted love. She kept risking it. And, I believe that Dodi gave her the love that she needed."

"I believe that to be able to face yourself, face problems, is a strength, not a weakness."

"She had a very privileged life. If she was weak she would have stayed behind those palace walls forever, never opened her mouth and the world would have known nothing. That's being weak," he asserted.

"But, she did the opposite. That affected me greatly," reiterated Stahl. "I wrote this show not only from what I studied, which I guess everyone has studied who has had an interest in this, but from what I feel the universal message of Diana was. So, it's a small show. Her life was huge - huge. The only way I saw this working was bringing the show down to be personal. It's her personal show."

"The music is - and this the wrong word to use - but this is really what is it - the music is small. The music speaks from Diana's soul, from her heart. It's that type of music. It's not legit, belt, Broadway type music," he explained.

Asked whether he felt there were any stand alone songs, Stahl singled out three.

"I didn't write any of the lyrics or music, so I can speak more objectively," he commented. "There is a gorgeous love ballad, You're My World which is sung to Diana and Dodi. Another song is It's My Turn which is sung by Diana (played by Kendra Munger). The other song, which absolutely moves me to tears every time Kendra does it is, Time To Let Go. I think these are three of the strongest songs in the show."

Dodi Al-Fayed
"Dodi is portrayed lovingly in the show," continued the author. "In order for me to accept Diana's death, in my heart, I have to believe she went out happy."

"I have to believe that Dodi did make her happy. I absolutely have to believe that this was the relationship that made life solid for her. To allow her to get what she searched for her entire life - acceptance and love. I believe that he gave that to her. I know that his strength made her stronger. Together that had that fairy tale love."

Not everyone was thrilled to learn that a musical about Diana and Dodi was opening off-Broadway. Stahl and the production received world wide press attention even before the production staged it's first public reading.

"We were getting calls from everywhere." continued Stahl. A tremendous amount of those calls were from England. We spoke to the press in London and they were very, very hostile towards me ...towards us," admitted Stahl. "It reached a point where it was difficult to even talk with them."

"The BBC was the first interview we gave. After the first reading the BBC called back and said they had had someone in the audience, which we didn't know. They called at 10:30, after the show and on the air they apologized to me for the first interview. He said his sources told him that this is a beautiful show that represents her spirit and soul and he thanked me for that."

"The same thing happened with The London Standard. They had someone in the audience. The London Standard called. They called all the actors and said the same thing to everyone."

"I think they perceived this to be a kick line, tap dance show, like Oklahoma or West Side Story and it isn't. I intentionally stayed away from any kind of chorus numbers."

"The play ends with her son, William, carrying on for Diana. Her death is addressed, but there is no sensationalism what-so-ever," he stressed. "We do not go into a car accident. We all know how Diana died. It's more spiritual. It's William carrying on Diana's spirit. Her spirit lives within him."

"This isn't a huge Broadway show. I don't want that," emphasized Stahl. "I would be more than happy in a 299-seat theater. I don't want to bastardize her name. I don't want to do that to Dodi. I don't want to do that to anyone."

The complete performance schedule for Queen of Hearts is: Wednesday through Sundays at 8:00 p.m. with one additional performance, the Opening Night show on Monday, October 5th at 7:00 p.m. Ticket prizes are $20.00 for Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; and $25.00 for Fridays and Saturdays. The opening night, October 5th, will have a $35.00 ticket price, which includes a reception with the cast following the performance. No word as to whether cucumber sandwiches will be served and if you are expected to curtsy before speaking. The box office number at The Grove Street Playhouse for reservations and further information is (212) 741-6436.


As we reported earlier (see August 31, 1998 column) Princess Diana's step-mum, Countess Raine Spencer arrived in Las Vegas to announce she's launching a line of children's clothing and Christmas decorations.

Countess Raine Spencer with Diana's father in the gift shop they ran at Althorp
The immaculate, soft spoken, well mannered matron used the occasion to open up about her relationship with Diana.

Reports always circulated that Diana and Raine didn't get along.

Countess Spencer explained that when she married Diana's father, Diana was a small child. Like any Daddy's girl, Diana didn't want her father to marry anybody. Countess Spencer experienced the same stepmother problems that women everywhere must over come when marrying a man who has children. There was give and take on both sides and Diana needed to grow up, which she did.

According to Countess Spencer the two had become extremely close and were quite good friends."She wasn't just my stepdaughter, she was a very great friend," Countess Spencer softly said. "Grieving is very private. I miss her enormously."

It was Diana who encouraged her step-mum to launch the children's clothing line.

Diana had always wanted a daughter and indicated to her step-mum that she was in love with Dodi, so she hadn't lost hope that she would one day give birth to a girl. Dodi's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, insists a marriage would have taken place.

Countess Spencer, who sits on the board of Harrods, announced two new licensing plans for Harrods.

Harrods will license it's children's department globally as Harrods Children's World. It's Christmas features, including theatrical productions, ornaments, festivities, holiday cards and Harrods gift wrapping, will be licensed as Harrods Christmas Grotto Programme.

While Countess Spencer selected Las Vegas to make her announcements, there are no plans to market any of the items in Las Vegas.

This wasn't the first time Countess Spencer has been in Vegas. She reflected on the first time she visited the city and found it "all so enchanting with the shops, fantastic lights on the Strip and the image of the place."

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The day after the Nevada primary elections, actor Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, hot footed it to Las Vegas. The charming actor was guest of honor at a fund raising luncheon for Rep. John Ensign, who is attempting to move to the other side of the Washington block, as a member of the U.S. Senate.

Instead of Heston being greeted by fans who wanted his picture and autograph, Heston was greeted by women carrying pickets wanting him to take his guns and go away. Heston did, but only to other parts of Nevada; Reno, Elko and Winnemucca, still stumping for Ensign.

Former lover and manager of Bette Midler, Aaron Russo, sent a message to elected officials. Although Russo lost his primary Republican bid to win a spot on the November ticket, he garnered almost 30% of the vote, sending a message to all candidates that the good citizens of the state were a bit suspect of big government. Russo railed against taxes and federal invasion of privacy with radio and television acts featuring Jack Nicholson. The controversial Russo has vowed to remain in Nevada and again seek political office.

Singer Mel Torme's sister, veteran office holder, Myrna Williams, squeaked to a win in the County Commission race. The incumbent Williams tallied up 3,944 votes to win an encore performance while her opponent was given the hook with 3,129 votes.


In a move that surprised no one, Livent, Inc. announced they have selected Todd Haimes, the current Artistic Director of Roundabout Theatre Company in New York to become the Artistic Director of the beleaguered Livent. (See August 17, 1998 column)

TODD HAIMES Photo By: Joan Marcus
Haimes will remain at Roundabout through the opening theatre season, including Roundabout's transition to the Selwyn Theater.

Roundabout Theatre Company is one of the country's leading nonprofit theatre companies and the second largest operating theater company in the United States.

Productions under Haimes, in the current season, have included 1776, A View From The Bridge, and Cabaret.

In the eight seasons Haimes has served as Artistic Director, the Roundabout has received 51 Tony nominations, 49 Drama Desk nominations, and 51 Outer Critic Circle nominations.

The company also announced that Marty Bell, current Associate Producer of Livent, has been promoted to Senior Producer. He will assume primary responsibility for the company's productions of Ragtime, Fosse: A Celebration In Song and Dance, and Parade.

Haimes and Bell noted that Livent is excited about the substantial flow of new projects at the company. These include:

Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance which completed a Toronto run and opens this week in Boston before going to Los Angeles and then to the Broadhurst Theater in New York for previews beginning December 26. The creative team includes; Director, Richard Maltby, Jr.; co-director and co-choreographer, Ann Reinking; and artistic advisor, Gwen Verdon.

Parade a new musical co-produced with Lincoln Center, which begins previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York beginning November 12 and which opens on December 17. The creative team includes; Director and co-conceiver, Harold Prince; book-writer, Alfred Uhry; composer/lyricist, Jason Robert Brown.

Pal Joey a new version of the classic Rogers & Hart musical. The creative team includes director Frank Galati and book writer Terence McNally.

The Sweet Smell of Success a new musical based on the classic movie. The creative team includes director Nick Hytner, book writer John Guare, composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Craig Carnelia.

The Seussical a musical based on the stories of Dr. Seuss. The creative team includes director Frank Galati, composer and lyricist Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and Monty Python's Eric Idle as the book writer.


According to our extremely knowledgeable spy, Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance currently on a shakedown tour may be in trouble. Our spy saw the show in Toronto and told us; "The Toronto reviews which weren't that great - were kind." Our source is interested in seeing how the production fares in Boston. The way it's going, our spy speculates that this could turn into the Fosse that flopped.


Richard Dreyfuss, star of the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, has started a charity to provide musical instruments to students who can't afford them.

Richard Dreyfuss
Inspired by the movie, Dreyfuss, composer Michael Kamen, and director, Stephen Herek, established the nonprofit Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation.

The organization is dedicated to promoting instrumental music by providing new and refurbished musical instruments to qualified school and individual students.

THE MELODY PROGRAM targets school music programs threatened by budget cuts.

THE SOLO PROGRAM targets outstanding student musicians who are financially limited.

THE SPECIAL PROJECTS PROGRAM targets community schools of the arts, hospitals, nursing homes, music therapy programs and school districts which are in need of assistance.

For more information or to apply, visit The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation Web site at

EILEEN FULTON who has spent 38 years portraying that sometimes evil but always interesting Liza on As The World Turns. Sunday is Eileen's birthday and next Monday, Sept 14, she'll be inducted into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame. Festivities take place at Planet Hollywood, New York.

TONY RANDALL and jazz singer Nuenna Freelon traveled to Durham, North Carolina to promote the Carolina Theatre's upcoming season, which begins next month.

The season includes Randall's production of The Gin Game, starring Julie Harris and Charles Durning.

There will also be a concert by Freelong.

NICOLE KIDMAN makes her London stage debut September 23 in a five week run of The Blue Room. She'll star opposite Iain Glenn. The two actors will play five couples in complex romantic entanglements in a production loosely adapted by David Hare from Arthur Schnitzier's La Ronde. Kidman is being paid the same as the other cast members.That's $417.50 a week.

CABARET finally reopened after the surrounding area was declared safe, permitting the show's emcee Alan Cumming to return to work. The actor no sooner got back on board when he's slated to begin his vacation. The award winning Cumming takes a scheduled respite September 14 to Nov. 22. He'll be replaced by Robert Sella, currently starring in Side Man.



Kendra Munger, who stars as Princess Diana in Queen of Hearts has put her entire head into the part. The natural beauty made a trip to Vidal Sassoon's 5th Avenue shop where she had her hair bleached and then colored Diana's shade of blonde.

Since Kendra had never had her hair color tampered with, she was understandably nervous about her virgin hair. So were the stylists. It's so unusual to find a virgin head now-a-days.

The Vidal Sassoon folks worked their magic and Kendra became a ravishing blonde.

As for Gail Lee Marshner who portrays Camilla Parker Bowles in the two act musical --- she's wearing a wig!

Next Column: September 14, 1998
Copyright: September 7, 1998 All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Graphica or Photographs from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, reprinted, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
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Laura Deni