Princess Diana will come to life at La Jolla Playhouse this spring in a new world premiere musical, portrayed by a British actress who has spent countless hours learning the ways of the Princess of Wales.
Jeanna De Waal, the musical's star, known for her work as Lauren in "Kinky Boots" and as Heather in "American Idiot," told NBC 7 San Diego it is an honor to portray Princess Diana.
"It’s a privilege and an honor, obviously, to play a role that is so fleshed out and so well written and that has such a detailed journey throughout the play," she told NBC 7 in a phone interview.
The musical, which has already been extended twice at La Jolla Playhouse, focuses on the royal marriage of the Princess of Wales and what comes next for the 20-year-old bride, beloved by many.
Though there are no concrete plans, the musical is widely expected to transfer to Broadway; La Jolla Playhouse has sent nearly a dozen shows to Broadway in recent years, some of which are still running ("Come From Away").
The play is somewhat personal for De Waal, a British citizen. She still remembers the day Princess Diana died.
"I remember my mom and my grandma waking me up and it being a very sad day in our household," de Waal said. "It's an early memory I have."
At the time, she didn't know much about Diana aside from her work with philanthropy.
Since the actress has started researching the role, she said, she has been surprised with many of her findings: the struggles in her marriage, her naivety going into the marriage and more.
"I don't think I'll ever truly know her," de Waal said. "It's me learning as much as I can from everything that is available and then trying to tell a story with the facts that I've found."
To prepare for the role, de Waal has been digging deeper into Diana's past: reading the Andrew Morton biography (some of the source material is available on Netflix as "Diana: In Her Own Words") and looking up videos.
"(I've been) watching YouTube videos to watch how she carries herself and how she uses her voice, and really trying to embody some of those characteristics," de Waal said.
But the actress makes it clear: this world-premiere musical is not a documentary.
It's a musical, De Waal said, and that means that certain moments have been heightened in musical ways.
"At the end of the day, we are not creating a documentary, we're creating a piece of theater that is whatever theater means to you: entertainment, an escape, all of those things," de Waal said.
Tony Award-winning Director and La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley will direct and the book, music and lyrics are a collaboration between Bon Jovi keyboardist and composer David Bryan and composer/lyricist and Joe DiPietro (who previously worked on the Tony-winning "Memphis," another La Jolla Playhouse premiere).
"Even though everything is heavily based on the facts that we can find, and the videos that we can find, now we're in a place where we're now telling a story that we want people to enjoy as a night out at the theater," De Waal added.
The musical takes a greater look at what it means to harness the power of your own voice, De Waal said.
One part of that explores what it means to find your own voice, and the second part looks at how you use your voice.
"We all can have a meaningful impact on the lives of people in our inner circle and the lives of people on a much larger scale," de Waal said. "It's finding your own voice and trusting that you should follow it."
De Waal hopes that when audiences walk out of the musical, they have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Princess Diana.
"She was in an incredibly challenging situation from a very young age, and dealing with that had its ups and downs. In my eyes, she eventually triumphed," de Waal said. "I hope people come away empathizing that she tried her best to negotiate her way through this challenging period, her whole adult life."
Princess Diana has taught De Waal one thing she respects. And it's something de Waal hopes other people take away from her portrayal of the character.
"From everything I've heard, she really made people feel cared for, whether they were a really high ranking official or just a member of the general public," de Waal said.
"She had so much time to talk to people and hear their side of the story and make them feel comfortable, and that's definitely something I'm trying to emulate more and more in my life," de Waal said.
"Diana" runs from Feb. 19 to April 7, 2019, at La Jolla Playhouse. Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro; Music and Lyrics by David Bryan; Choreography by Kelly Devine; Directed by Christopher Ashley. To learn more about the musical, click here.