Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Roe Hartrampf and Jeanna de Waal play the Prince and Princess of Wales in Diana: The Musical

A Broadway musical about Princess Diana is to have its premiere on Netflix, while in Birmingham a new show will tell the story of Henry Fielding's 1749 Tom Jones novel using the hits of Sir Tom Jones. Both come from the brain of one American playwright.

"I'm going through my British phase for some reason as a writer," laughs New Yorker Joe DiPietro backstage at the Birmingham Rep theatre, where his Tom Jones musical is in rehearsals before opening next week.

Titled What's New Pussycat?, that show is in fact not just based on one Tom Jones. It's two Tom Joneses for the price of one. Tom Jones meets Tom Jones. Tom Jones squared.

Image source, Michael WharleyImage caption, Bronté Barbé and Dominic Andersen star in What's New Pussycat?

To explain – novelist Henry Fielding's classic book The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling followed the dashing, cavorting rogue's escapades through 18th Century society.

After it was turned into a popular film in 1963, a dashing singer called Thomas John Woodward adopted the stage name Tom Jones and went on to have hits including It's Not Unusual, What's New Pussycat?, Delilah and Sex Bomb.

Now, DiPietro has transplanted Fielding's Tom Jones into swinging 1960s London for a stage musical soundtracked by the swinging hits of Sir Tom Jones.

Which is a neat idea. But will a neat idea make a great show?

Image source, Pamela RaithImage caption, Writer Joe DiPietro (left) with What's New Pussycat? producer Flody Suarez

"That music is so good and it's so theatrical," says the playwright, who won two Tony Awards in 2010 for his 1950s-set musical Memphis.

"Tom Jones sang mostly about love, and being in and out of love, and the book Tom Jones very much examines love from all angles. So they fit easier than I thought."

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The show is choreographed by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Dame Arlene Phillips, with Tom Jones played by Dominic Andersen, who himself is tall, dark and dashing.

But any resemblance to the pop star is unintentional. "He's playing the Tom Jones of the book, not Sir Tom Jones," DiPietro points out.

Image source, Pamela RaithImage caption, Dame Arlene Phillips has choreographed What's New Pussycat?

Before audiences get that double helping of Tom Jones, they can see how DiPietro has tackled an even more iconic British figure, and one whose story is much more emotionally fraught.

Merely the words "Diana – The Musical" have raised some hackles on this side of the Atlantic.

The show, which DiPietro wrote with Bon Jovi's keyboardist, had started preview performances on Broadway just before Covid shut it down last spring.

So it was filmed without an audience and is released on Netflix on Friday, before finally premiering in person in New York in November.

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"I knew what the average American guy knew about Diana," the writer says. "I remember her holding the Aids baby, and the wedding and, you know, hearing about the terrible marriage.

"I sort of didn't quite follow it, but I remember always admiring her, especially for her charity work.

"I'm a big reader and I happened one day to pick up a bio of Diana. As I was reading, I was like, this would make a great musical. I was especially attracted to her sense of empathy, which was almost supernatural."

'An 80s pop princess'

The pieces really started falling into place when he learned more about the "love triangle" between Charles, Diana and Camilla.

"That's fascinating to me, and everything about the Diana relationship suddenly had subtext, because we know in hindsight he was truly in love with another woman," the writer says.

"It was epic and royal and I thought, she's an 80s pop princess, and I often collaborate with David Bryan of Bon Jovi, who was an 80s pop star. I told him the idea and he was like, 'Oh my God, that's great, yes.'"

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi's David Bryan were winners at the 2010 Tony Awards

The all-singing storyline spans Charles and Diana's marriage, with the people's pop princess played by British actress Jeanna de Waal, a Broadway regular.

DiPietro and Bryan aren't the only ones to be drawn to Diana's story. Kristen Stewart is currently the bookmakers' favourite to win best actress at next year's Oscars for her acclaimed performance in the film Spencer, while Emma Corrin won a Golden Globe for The Crown.

British theatre has not shied away from taking the Royal Family on flights of fancy (like in Charles III or The Windsors), but there is perhaps more leeway for an American production to treat Diana as one more tragic-heroic public figure who can be resurrected with the help of a rousing chorus.

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"I think the distance is actually very helpful," says DiPietro. "I thought maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber or Elton John was writing a show about her, but I've got from my British friends the feeling that the Brits are too close to her.

"So I think if the show works it's because we actually have some distance from it and we view them as people, as opposed to icons. At least David and I do."

Image source, Netflix

However, there was scepticism in the British press even before the show had its Broadway previews. Advance access to the Netflix version was not available. But doesn't Diana – The Musical risk being just a bit tasteless?

"I never approached this as a campy show," DiPietro responds. "We never approached it as a critique of Diana. We also never approached it as just a love letter. To us, it's really about an extraordinary and important woman of the last century who made a lasting impact.

"It's an exploration of her life. I hope in the show there are no villains, and it's really three people trying to manoeuvre through this unique situation.

"It's unique because they were royals and they had the spotlight – but it's not unique, people have affairs, people are in love with someone else, people marry the wrong person. That to me was always what the show is about, just with a royal, epic feel to it.

"And also we never see Harry or William, because I felt that was a little exploitative. They're obviously talked about and discussed, but they don't come on at the end.

"That to me is cheap and cheesy, which is something we've worked hard not to make this musical."

Diana: The Musical is on Netflix from Friday 1 October. What's New Pussycat? is at the Birmingham Rep from Friday 8 October.