Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan was still a teenager when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, and he remembers feeling captivated by the extravagant royal wedding. When Princess Diana died in a freak car crash, spurred on by paparazzi, in 1997, he was horrified. “When she died, that was very impactful,” he says, on a lunch break from work-shopping the piece, with musicians playing behind him. “Especially the paparazzi that chased her into that, and her getting killed by the press, it’s terrible. It’s awful.”
Now Bryan and his partner in musical theater, Joe DiPietro, have written Diana, a musical about the princess’ life that will open on Broadway in New York City in March. Today, he’s premiering a rock-style music video for the production’s closing number, “If,” which he recorded with the show’s star, Jeanna de Waal.
It’s a song full of hypothetical scenarios as Diana, who was divorced from Charles a year before her death, parses a future she would never live to see. She sings about looking forward to standing in queues, wanting to devote herself to children, hoping to have another child – “perhaps a girl” — and her hopes for her sons: “If Charles steps aside, and let’s my William reign/Then all this suffering will not have been in vein.” The song is a big, emotional torch song; it’s more dramatic than anything he’s done with Bon Jovi and it captures Diana’s spirit.
“This was like, ‘If I had lived, I would have maybe had girls,’ and ‘If I did this, I would have done that,'” Bryan says. “So it’s telling about in the future what I would do. And unfortunately we know there wasn’t a future for her. But the greatest thing the song says is that the future for her was her message, which is empathy and love. Look at Harry and the modern monarchy now; it’s because of what Diana did. She made the whole stodgy monarchy that didn’t show feelings and kept a stiff upper lip, and she was visiting AIDS patients, and [victims of] landmines, and sick children. She really cared, and that’s what her children have done.”
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So what business do Bryan and DiPietro have writing about the British monarchy since, they’re, as Bryan says, just “two guys from New Jersey,” who previously won Tonys for Memphis? The answer: Objectivity. “I think not being British is an advantage here,” he says. “We’re not under the royal anything; we’re removed from it. We told a human story. It’s a human, emotional story. Here’s a guy that loves a married woman [Camilla Parker Bowles] and couldn’t go with her because of his world, and here’s the young virgin girl who loves the guy and he doesn’t love her back. There were no winners and losers in that situation. Everybody lost a little bit.”
To capture the confusion, Bryan wrote different styles of music for each character. Diana’s songs are in a rock-pop style from the Eighties. Queen Elizabeth’s music sounds more regal, with horns and drums. Charles gets rock songs with strings and orchestrations. Parker Bowles gets what Bryan describes as a “light FM” sound. He made the paparazzi sounds like the Clash. “I tried to make all these styles live on top of each other, so in the songs there will be a part where the punk comes in and it’s over a classical piece and a rock & roll piece goes on top of that,” he says. “So in theory, it was easy in my brain but to do it was not so easy, but it’s fun.”
Figuring all that out was a big part of a very busy 2019 for Bryan, who also recorded a new Bon Jovi album, 2020, that will come out next year. “You just get in there and bash it out and see what happens,” Bryan says of the new Bon Jovi record, which will follow up 2016’s This House Is Not for Sale. “That’s what I love about it. It’s the idea of us all being in a room and getting those basic tracks and playing it and feeling it. You can’t substitute that. So it really has a good rock & roll feel. They’re great songs.”
After Diana opens in March, Bryan says Bon Jovi will be touring the new album next year. With so much going on, Bryan says, “For a little kid who took piano lessons at seven, I’m blessed.”