People Staff
November 26, 2001 12:00 PM

If Orphan Annie and Abba can thrill musical theater audiences, it was just a matter of time before the life of Princess Diana made it to the stage. Enter Lady Di—Diana: A Smile Enchants the World, which had its worldwide premiere Nov. 10—far from the West End or Broadway—at a nearly half-empty 3,000-seat theater in Saarbrücken, Germany. “I wanted to do something for Diana’s memory,” says producer Karl-Heinz Stracke, 79, who plans to take the show on a four-month European tour. “This isn’t about making money.”

The result is a two-hour melodrama full of familiar Diana moments—the birth of her son William, the suicide attempt, the confrontation with husband Prince Charles’s mistress Camilla Parker Bowles—all set to the schmaltzy tunes of composer Peter Thomas, 75. “I try to give you strength to live/simply live,” she sings in German, after deciding to devote her life to helping others. British actress Karen Gillingham, 28, a brunette who has appeared in several German productions of translated English-language musicals and plays Diana, says she relishes the role, even if the physical resemblance isn’t exactly strong. “I think about how any woman would feel with that kind of loneliness and always having to have a smiling face in public.” Besides, she adds, “the wig is quite good.”

For Stracke, who created the touring production of Phantom of the Opera that has performed in several European countries, Diana is a labor of love. “I watched her wedding, I’ve followed what happened in her life,” says the former opera singer, who flew to London to lay flowers at Kensington Palace after she died in August 1997. “She once walked by me and I could see the kind of dear, wonderful person she was.” There are no immediate plans for the musical to move to Britain and so far no comment from the royal family. As for reviews, “All in all, more embarrassing than thrilling,” wrote Stefan Folz in the newspaper Die Rheinpfalz. No matter. The opening-night audience gave the show a warm reception. “It was a must-see for me,” said Sarah Elliott, 20, a Saarbrücken University student from England. “You just couldn’t do this at home”

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