In the numerous obituaries that have been written about Queen Elizabeth II in recent days, it has been often noted that she was a big theater fan – and the theater community appears to have liked her her too, with numerous stage celebrities and shows marking her passing, including the Broadway cast of “Chicago” (with an orchestral rendition of “God Save Our Queen”) and the London cast of “Hamilton” (which is a little ironic, considering that “Hamilton” dramatizes America’s struggle to break free of English control).
As it happens, Elizabeth II has turned up either directly or indirectly in a number of recent shows that played in New York in recent years.
The most obvious show was “The Audience,” an intriguing and insightful drama by Peter Morgan starring Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. It played Broadway in 2015, in between Morgan’s 2006 film “The Queen” (which also starred Mirren) and the ongoing Netflix series “The Crown.”
“The Audience” depicted the queen’s cordial but complicated relationships with virtually all of the British prime ministers that had been in office from her accession in the early 1950s through the time of the production, such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and David Cameron.
Jumping back and forth in chronology, it took place during the once-a-week private chats between the Queen and the prime minister at Buckingham Palace. Although choppy, “The Audience” was a fascinating meditation on the historic and present day role of the English monarch.
2015 also included the Broadway bow of Mike Bartlett’s iambic pentameter drama “King Charles III,” which imagined Britain’s royal family immediately following the death of Elizabeth II. In addition to Charles, the play depicted Camilla, William, Kate, and Harry. A filmed version of the play was created for public television and can be purchased online.
Designed as an alternative universe thriller with conventions of a Shakespearian history play, “King Charles III” depicted Charles (played by Tim Pigott-Smith, who died in 2017) dissolving Parliament, leading to chaos and protests, and taking a tragic journey from pondering figurehead to dangerous autocrat, eventually leading to his abdication in favor of William.
Most recently, both Elizabeth and Charles turned up in the critically-panned “Diana the Musical,” which very briefly played Broadway last year but nevertheless lives on in a pro-shot version filmed for Netflix (which must have assumed that fans of “The Crown” would be interested in it).
The Queen (played by Tony Award winner Judy Kaye as staunch but with a sense of humor) remained on the sidelines throughout most of the musical, merely commenting on the turbulent developments in Diana and Charles’ marriage. She did, however, have an well-meaning but underwhelming 11-o-clock solo in which she reflected on her unexpected and reluctant rise from “An Officer’s Wife” to Queen. Both Kaye and Roe Hartrampf (who played a mopey and nasal Charles) were honored (or rather dishonored) with Razzie Award nominations for the Netflix film.
It can probably be assumed that Elizabeth II will turn up again soon on the New York stages – perhaps in her own bio musical, which will hopefully turn out better than “Diana the Musical.”